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Handyman Letter - March 2004

In This Issue:

1) Making peace with contradiction... a message from the Natural Handyman

2) Back at ya'... in appreciation for media citations or reciprocal links!

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) Making peace with contradiction... a message from the Natural Handyman

Last year, I wrote two articles for “Perform” magazine, a well put-together glossy with articles on sports, art, travel and other topics oriented towards the active adult. It is published for Pfizer, the pharmaceutical company, to promote their arthritis medication “Bextra”. You probably have never heard of it because it's only distributed to doctors' offices and to subscribers who fill out a form at their website.

I visited their website to see if one of the articles had been posted. It wasn't, but in the process ran across another article I found more interesting than my own. Dr. Edward G. McFarland from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine had posted an article that gave me pause.

The article was titled, “Do Sports Injuries Cause Osteoarthritis?” My first reaction to the title was, “Duh.” Everyone I know who played sports has done some long-term damage to themselves, the scars and aches a badge of honor among true athletic devotees.

The doctor cites the case of a running “addict” who was so obsessed with winning races that even knee surgery would not stop him. Eventually, he developed arthritis of the knee serious enough to end his world-class aspirations. After another ten years of pain medications and physical therapy, his lower leg bones were literally rubbing together. The nightmarish result? Total knee replacement surgery... at 39 years old!

The plot thickens. Dr. McFarland concluded that, even after an injury, it is better to continue to exercise at some level. “Exercise that works for (the patient) will preserve joint functioning better over time (compared to) those who cease to exercise.”

Exercise giveth and exercise taketh away! So much of life is contradictory. Medicines that help the body heal may cause other, long term diseases or even death. Many of life's pleasures can cause emotional or physical pain. A single death can change the world for the better (the point of Gibson's “The Passion”), while a single evil life can cause unspeakable horror, the last century replete with mass murderers, dictators and endless brutality.

As usual, my wife, my mother, her mother and undoubtedly her mother's mother had the answer, too. So did the ancient Greeks. It's so boring and so mundane we must remind ourselves constantly so we don't forget. The answer to contradiction is simply accepting, in the words of Aristotle, “moderation in all things”.

Keeping oneself free of excesses without a doubt spares the body and soul from breakage. But therein lies still another contradiction. Would we even know who Aristotle was if he hadn't been a little over-the-top? Surely no successful person followed that philosophy! Have any of mankind's greatest feats been accomplished without reaching for the stars, damning the torpedoes, climbing to the mountaintops or onto a cross?

Let's see... I guess it's all in how you define success or achievement. Would you consider a person who lives a full life with friends, fellowship and respect... a loser? Are the vast majority of people who work hard, complain little, and strive to do good, simply fools?

In order to make sense, moderation needs to be redefined. Successful moderation does not imply mediocrity or laziness. It is a general approach to life, even when one is skirting the extremes. It's feeling the limits but keeping in touch with one's sense of proportion. The runner cited above could well have become a world-class cyclist or swimmer. He could have trained other runners in his winning techniques. He could have become a world famous expert on running philosophy. All these wonderful, powerful possibilities. Yet somehow, in his immoderation, he strove for pain, suffering and loss of what he loved most... his freedom of movement.

We all fight the demons of excess, whether they come to us disguised as food, drugs, sex or even cynicism, the end result is a downward spiral of disappointment, pain and loss. But all is not lost. On any day, you have the freedom to say “Enough!” When you open your eyes after a night's sleep you can say to yourself, even before rolling back the covers, that today will be different.

And on that day, you will be one step closer to being the person who finds their better self... the one who does not sabotage himself with immoderation.




It only takes a second for an electrical tragedy to happen. Protect yourself and your family. Take a few minutes to see if your home is electrically safe!

The days of the garage used merely to house vehicles, seasonal decorations, work benches and tools have made way for fashion forward designs that attractively maximize storage, as well as allow for usable hobby and play areas enjoyed by both adults and children alike! Gail McCauley from the “Paint Quality Institute” offers some ideas to make your garage a thing of beauty!



Dear NH,

We have a new son (3 years old) decided to start the toaster on fire. The melted plastic from the toaster scorched a small area of our countertop. My husband was wanting to cut that part out of the countertop and put a cutting board inlay in (one that could be removed for cleaning and such). The mark happens to be in the middle of the countertop and I think this would look nice...However I can't find any ideas on this or even if it would work. What do you think?

BR from Wyoming, MI


Sorry about your counter! I hope you and your child weren't too traumatized by this accident!

There are two ways to go. First, of course, is to purchase a cutting board and just leave it on the countertop to hide the damage. There are some cutting boards that look so good you would want to leave them out, too! One such is the John Boos maple cutting board. It is unique because it has a small "backsplash" as well as an overlap on the front edge of the counter... as I said nice enough to leave out all the time! It is reversible so you will get many years of use from it. Here is a link to a page with a picture. These quality cutting boards aren't cheap but they are cheaper than a new countertop... and don't require any carpentry skills to install!

Then again, you could take an ordinary, thick piece of butcherblock and build it into your existing countertop. Though I admit to never having done this, it should be rather easy to accomplish. The first thing would be to find a suitably-sized cutting board. A piece of butcherblock would be ideal provided it is at least 1 1/2" thick.

First, prepare the board by cutting a notch around the perimeter of the bottom about 3/4" wide by 3/4" deep. This notch is called an edge rabbet. This is most easily and neatly done with a router, though this can also be done with a table saw, making two cuts... one about 3/4" deep on the edge about 3/4" in from the bottom. Then, make a second cut all the way around the bottom to meet the first cut, leaving a 3/4" x 3/4" notch all around the bottom.

Now, cut a hole in the countertop, all the way through, so that it is slightly larger than the bottom of the cutting board, which will be about 1 1/2" smaller in each dimension than the original size if you made your cuts according to my suggestion above.

Once done, the cutting board will set nicely into the countertop, covering the hole with 3/4" of overlap around the edges. Now, this plan has the cutting board raised above the countertop about 3/4" if it was originally 1 1/2" thick. If you would like it raised a little less, make the notch deeper.

One problem with this design is that any spills on the countertop will leak around the cutting board and into the cabinet below. I suggest that you set the cutting board into the countertop with either latex caulk or plumber's putty. Plumbers putty will stop leaks, keep the cutting board a little more steady but allow you to remove it for cleaning when necessary... though you should be able to perform most cleaning tasks without removing it. If you would like it set more permanently, use latex caulk. It will still be removable, but you will need to slide a putty knife carefully under the edge to free the caulk's glue-like bond.

About the only other problem you might have is that the cut-out section of countertop might be a little flimsy, or might even tend to sag overtime if there is no nearby support underneath. The easy way to remedy this would be to glue-and-screw 4" strips of 3/4" plywood under the counter around the perimeter of the hole. They will firm it up to nearly original strength. Use polyurethane glue or construction adhesive for the most strength!

(A follow-up letter from BR... they found a pre-made glass insert with a metal frame at their local Home Depot they could be used in place of butcherblock, saving a little work!)


Dear NH,

We have a serious problem. We just purchased a condo and renovating it. It hadn't been touched I don't think since about 1977. We made a peninsula out of one side of the galley kitchen by knocking out the wall from 36" over the ground to the ceiling.

We realized we don't have any ducts for venting purposes and need to get a recirculating hood. However, we don't want to put a huge island hood over the range in that spot, because that would defeat the purpose of having the wall knocked down in the first place. We want an open view into the living room, etc. What are our options on say telescopic hoods? Can they be converted into ductless? Or what about a flat vent system built into the ceiling? How high up over the range is too high for the vent to be useful? We talked to the condo manager and he said as far as knew, no one even puts vents in the renovated condos. We've tried asking everyone, from appliance salesmen and installers, to ac guys and no one can come up with a solution. Please help us, we are desperate for an answer.

SL from Sarasota, FL


You do have a problem. A range hood that is more than a few feet above the top of the stove is pretty useless for catching smoke from cooking.

In every home I've lived in, I always do two things. First, I install an exhaust fan in the attic to provide cooling without the cost of AC. Second, I add a vent over the range that exhausts to the outside. Frankly, I can't understand why anyone would intentionally not vent their cooktop. They must not understand how much cleaner their homes would be... that is, unless they rarely cook!

Back to your problem. If I were renovating my kitchen, my first choice would be to relocate the range to an outside wall. Of course, some condo associations are a little picky about any outside modifications to the units so be sure the location you have chosen for the vent doesn't violate any rules.

If you really want to keep your stovetop at the pass-through, a telescoping downdraft vent is probably your best solution, assuming you have a way to vent it to the outside, say by routing the vent hose under the countertops through a basement or crawlspace. Though they may exist (I've been surprised before), I have yet to see a telescoping vent that uses a filter system like a standard range hood.


Dear NH,

I am going to replace my existing countertop with a solid surface top. I have a ceramic tile backsplash that the countertop sits under by the width of the tile. I have to remove my whole countertop including the sink etc.

I am worried about cracking the tile. I have thought about cutting the counter in half with a skill saw set just deep enough so it cuts through my counter but not my cupboard. Remove the front portion of the counter top then take a Sawzall with a metal blade and run it between the counter and the cupboards to cut all the nails loose, then carefully pry the remainder of the top out. What are your thoughts?

JO from Grandville, MI


Kitchen countertops do not set into the cabinets; they are attached atop them. Once you remove the sink and faucet and either remove or cut the screws holding the countertop in place, it should slide out easily. Some installers glue the countertops in place, so look for evidence of glue and, if you find some, it is relatively soft and can be cut with a hacksaw blade held in a special holder which allows cutting with the end of the blade. Most hardware stores sell them.

With a tile backsplash, you have one additional step... to be sure that there is not a caulk seam gluing the tile to the countertop. If there is, cut it out with a utility knife. You will know when you're done when the countertop moves out freely. It's as simple as that!

Cutting the countertop apart is okay too but, as you understand, there is a risk of damage to the cabinets and the extra dust, etc. is probably unnecessary. I would reserve wholesale destruction as the last, not first, resort in this case!

Take care,




Dear NH,

In your newsletter you have weird looking links. I'm afraid to click on them because of viruses and other bad stuff. Do you know about this?

OB from Denver, CO


Sorry to scare you, OB! I was taken aback myself the first time I saw one of our newsletters sent by our publisher, Topica.

Our publisher takes the original links and converts them to a special code that allows us to know whether or not our readers like the links we provide. By knowing how often a link is “clicked”, we can learn if a link is popular and unpopular with our do-it-yourself audience.

They are not dangerous so don't be afraid to click if you see a website or article that interests you.


Dear NH,

I read the Q&A in your recent newsletter. Specifically, the question from "DP from Yonkers, NY" about pocket doors. I have another possible solution. We live in an older mobile home and the common interior doors in these homes are sliding doors. Kind of the same as pocket doors except they slide over the wall, using no "pocket". They hang on a track with a guide on the floor. The top track is hidden by a cornice-type box attached to the top of the wall (which matches the wall paneling). Just a suggestion from your friends in the South!

LR from Dunedin, FL


I've never seen that type of door in a conventional home, but it obviously has its advantages, especially if repairs are needed when compared to a pocket door.

Undoubtedly the designers of mobile homes made them to accommodate the thinner walls, plus give the room more space by eliminating door-swing considerations.

Gee... it must be nice when someone who disagrees with says, “The door swings both ways”... and you can honestly answer, “Not mine!”


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