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Handyman Letter - May 2004

In This Issue:

1) Many Mother's Day... 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) Many Mothers' Day... a message from the Natural Handyman

Mother's Day. Here it comes again. It's a peculiar holiday for me, since I've had the pleasure of a variety of moms in the last 50 years. No... not a string of statutory moms from a dad with too much testosterone. My moms are, in a sense, accidents of chance... some lucky and some frustrating.

I've had a birth mother who I never knew, an adoptive mother who tried too hard, a step-mother with no mothering experience or inclination, and a mother-in-law who was God's gift of patience to her weird, hippy son-in-law.

And let's not forget my children's mother... the best mother on earth! Or the Sisters of Mercy at St. Agnes', who took care of me for much of my first year (and a little before that).

Yep, I've had a good view of mothers over the years. They are an interesting, indefinable breed. Some mothers pay too much attention and get in the way of all the fun. In retrospect, those are the best mothers of all. They are always annoyingly there, in your face, drowning your youthful invective with the mufflers of love.

Some mothers aren't around... they disappear before you even know them. You wonder how they could leave you, but you realize that they may have also suffered over their choice to leave you, if they had one. Fortunately for me, “choice” in the 50's was the Sisters of Mercy, who took good care of unwed mothers and encouraged adoption in a way only nuns can. (I know nuns, too, but that's another story.) Were it not for the kind sisters, you'd be looking for that great article on caulking elsewhere!

Having so many mothers has it advantages. For example, I always have a mother to blame for my faults. Eenie, meenie, miney, MO! After all, one of them HAD to be responsible for my procrastination, unsteady habits and lack of respect for authority. Where's my lawyer? I smell a lawsuit!

Then again, I can credit another mother with my successes, my stick-to-itiveness and blind plodding forward in the face of modern absurdity. Or more than one... it's so hard to tell them apart sometimes.

Yes, Mother's Day... for me the perfect Hallmark card would read,

“Variety IS the spice of life. Happy Mothers' Day!”




PORTABLE GENERATOR SAFETY cannot be overstressed. Not only are there electrocution issues, but exhaust issues as well. Live to love your generator!
Click here for more...

SOUNDPROOFING HAS GOTTEN A LOT EASIER with the availability of online articles and quality products. Here is one such article contributed by Jesse Barron of American Micro Industries on the whys and hows of do-it-yourself soundproofing!

DECKS AND PORCHES can highlight your home! Here are some thoughtful tips on the aesthetics of outdoor living from Gail McCauley of the Paint Quality Institute.



Dear NH,

I want to remove a sink and tile over the floor drain. The drain is in a slab. What do I do to plug it?

KB from Seabrook, TX


If a permanent, leak-proof seal is your goal, clean the inside top two or three inches of the drain pipe thoroughly. Use coarse sandpaper to rough up the inside of the pipe. Push a rag into the hole as a backer at least two or three inches within the drain, and fill the drain to the top with hydraulic cement. Hydraulic cement, unlike other patching compounds, expands when it dries forming a permanent, air and water-tight seal. This is ideal to eliminate of any possibility of a leak... water or radon.

Since you are planning to tile the floor, you will have to level the floor over the drain if there is a gap between the top of the floor drain and the slab. Don't use hydraulic cement for this, since it will rise as it expands and may cause a high spot. Use a standard concrete or sand mix cement for the topping-off.

Take care,



Dear NH,

I seem to have a turquoise colored deposit that plugs up the aerators. The deposits are the size of a large grain of sand. It seems to be on the hot side only because it plugs up the hot on my laundry machine. I have replaced my hot water heater, but the deposits seem to persist. What could be the cause of this and should I have my water tested?

RV from Littleton, CO



Without chemical analysis, it is hard to say what is coming up through your pipes. My guess is some type of sediment, but just in case I would have the water tested. Testing is not too expensive and will give you peace of mind. Try to find a local, independent water testing service. If you hire one of the water conditioning companies you might get a sales pitch instead of clear results!

You don't mention whether or not your home uses a well. If so, you might only need to install a sediment filter in the main line. I had a similar problem in my own home (my grit was bright red!) and totally solved it with a simple filter. Many wells send minute particles of grit through the water system. This abrasive material shortens the life of faucets, toilets and appliances, plus can over time render shutoff valves useless!

Even city water can send wonderful debris into your home plumbing! I've often had to replace toilet valves, clean aerators and washing machine hose screens due to sediment from annual pipe flushing.



Dear NH,

My mother has a wicker armoire, painted white and coated with shellac. It is now - after ten years of my father smoking cigarettes in the same room - a light brown color.
I was wondering if there is anything that will remove the tobacco stains without damaging either the wicker or paint. Any help will be great appreciated.

JM from Texas


Cigarette smoke leaves a greasy residue, so most solvent-type cleaners will remove it. Fantastic, 409 and Greased Lightning are all products that work well. You can also use a concentrated cleaners such as Mr. Clean or Simple Green.

Wicker is very tough stuff, and it is hard to damage with normal cleaners or solvents. Though I don't believe these products will damage the paint finish, do a test in a less obvious area first to be sure. (I would have mentioned denatured alcohol as another cleaning product, but it would be unsuitable since it will dissolve the shellac!)

The "wild card" in this deck is the paint. It's possible that, even after cleaning, the paint may still not look as bright as you might like. Also, some of the paint may come off either during washing or rinsing, regardless of how careful you are.

Since you have already cleaned the armoire, most of the hard paint preparation is done! A light sanding followed by three or more light coats of white spray paint in rapid succession (read the label on the can for details) will make the armoire look like new!




Dear NH,

I see you still graciously list my window repair book, Working Windows, and for that I still thank you. I'm working on a follow-up version for those who want to go into the business and came across some of your comments during my research on glazing compound.

I never used the latex based material, which you mentioned can be very sticky, but one little known trick for DAP "33" is to put the can on a shaker at the paint store or hardware store before using it. Just as the shaker mixes the contents of a paint can thoroughly, it does a terrific job with DAP and I imagine could do the same with latex material. It's a good tip to pass on to your readers. I was certainly surprised when I first saw it.

Thanks again for keeping my book listed!

Terry Meany from Kenmore, WA


Nice to hear from you. Send me a copy of your new book when it's ready and I'll introduce it to our handyman network members (as well the ordinary D-I-Yers).

I wouldn't have thought you could mechanically shake something as heavy as glazing compound and get it to mix. I'll have to remember that.

In fact, there are other products that also need stirring that might also work on the paint shaker, such as quarts or gallons of construction adhesive, tile mastic, premixed cement patch and more. I'll have to try them all, though I might make the guys at the hardware store nuts!

It always amazes me how you can learn something every day if you keep your eyes (and mind) open!



Dear NH,

This probably does not concern you, but on your flag flying rules you state that all state flags have to be flown lower than the American flag. The Texas flag can be flown at the same height on another pole. This is because Texas became part of the union under treaty and was not annexed.

KL from Monahans, TX


Sorry to burst your bubble, but there is no particular exception for the Texas state flag written in either the U.S. code or in Texas' own flag display rules. In fact, the Texas code reads exactly the same as the U.S. code regarding sharing a flagpole... U.S. flag above the state flag when sharing a pole.

Now, on SEPARATE POLES, all state flags are allowed to fly either lower or at the same height as the U.S. flag... but they are to be on the U.S. flag's left (as viewed by an observer).

But before you fire up the cavalry and storm my castle, let me explain a little about the flag code. The U.S. Code regarding flag display is not a set of laws like driving or drug laws. Instead, it is a set of conventions, standards and etiquette to be used as a guideline for showing the proper respect for the U.S. flag. There are no criminal penalties for improper flag display, though there may be social penalties depending on the attitude of your neighbors!

Rest assured, no one (at least from the FBI) is going to come to your home and take you away if you decide to fly your Texas state flag above the U.S. flag. It's just not proper etiquette.

Your letter is not the first, nor I fear the last, on this Texas flag issue. Texan's have much to be proud about... but this flag issue is a red herring! If you want more information, visit a reliable source on so-called “urban legends”... They are an invaluable source of information on myths and half-truths.

I am embarrassed to say how many of these myths I have believed over the years. In fact, these very pages have included a few... on which my dutiful readers have never hesitated to upbraid me!



Dear NH,

I looked in your garage door page but didn't find the information I needed. What the foot pounds the Federal Government requires on a automatic reversible single car garage door, when the door is closing and meets resistance?

LG from Boulder City, NV


I really don't know, though if there is an answer is not a specific number but a range. All modern openers have an adjustment to increase or decrease the closing force which compensates for both varying door weights and the resistance in the track, rollers and pulleys.

Also, the auto-reversing feature in garage door openers is not dependent of the force per se, but on the stoppage of movement. That's why adjustment is done by placing a 1" board on the floor under the door to test the auto-reversing mechanism.

Obviously, the greater the force, the greater the possibility of injury to a person or animal stuck underneath it. So I always recommend adjusting the closing force to the minimum that will allow the door to successfully close. That said, garage doors can be dangerous if they drop on someone or something whether or not an electric opener is installed. The "safety" feature the CPSC requires is to protect someone from getting trapped under the door, no to spare them from all possible injury. If that was desired, then garage doors would have to be banned, too!

If you want to test the force, the easiest way is to put a bathroom scale under the door and let it close. It will measure the maximum force in pounds the opener will exert before reversing. I tried this myself on a 1/2 hp Craftsman opener. I set it at the least force that would allow the door to close and got a reading of 119 pounds. At the maximum force setting, the reading was 196 pounds. Either of these weights could cause major or minor injury but, as long as the door is properly adjusted, it should reverse and hopefully not cause fatal injury or entrapment.


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