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Handyman Letter - October 2004

In This Issue:

1) Voters Make Strange Bedfellows... a message from the Natural Handyman

2) Back at ya'... in appreciation for media citations or web 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) Voters make strange bedfellows... a message from the Natural Handyman

In 1917, Charles Dudley Warner wrote “My Summer in a Garden”, an interesting narrative of his experiences over 19 weeks of horticultural joy, frustration and introspection. Sometimes serious, often tongue in cheek, Warner weaves the frustrations of New England gardening with politics and philosophy. His famous quote, “Politics make strange bedfellows” metaphorically refers to political ambition in the context of how untended strawberries and raspberries tend to compete for the same earth, often to the detriment of both, while they wrap together in a seeming nuptial embrace.

So go today's political winds, with many disparate groups overlapping in their efforts to get this or that candidate elected, or local referendum passed. For example, in a nearby town, a referendum for a needed downtown development saw the Democrat and Republican candidates for state representative literally embracing in its support... standing against the deep-pocketed opposition from a nearby shopping mall.

Odd alliances are not unique to politics. The US Marines allying with warlords in Afghanistan to root out the terrorist-supporting Taliban shows how groups with different motives can rally together for a common purpose, though their ultimate goals may differ.

These interesting overlaps and similarities make it difficult for voters, especially when skilled politicians artfully take both sides of an issue. In many surveys, a top reason why people SAY they don't vote is because the candidates (or parties) are so alike that they feel their vote won't mean anything. Politically astute junkies would strongly disagree, saying that each election offers a clear choice. Who's right?

Both, at least in their own minds. One huge difference between the non-voting citizen and the politically-engaged is their motivation. The politically-engaged person looks at their chosen candidate with a sense of hope for the future and votes with an underlying purpose... to either change or maintain the status quo. Disengaged voters are less motivated to learn about the candidates, and may instead focus on the anticipated results. Unfortunately, many citizens withhold their vote because they see politicians as untrustworthy. Why participate if you feel your vote is meaningless?

Should these people, who routinely avoid the polls, be encouraged to vote? Sure, voting is fundamental to our continued freedom, but does a thoughtless vote serve the purposes of democracy?. Frankly, I would prefer that uninformed or marginally interested people stay home on election day!

Responsible voters have two characteristics. First, they have learned how to make a firm decision, even in the face of contradicting news, “warty” candidates and an uncertain future. And, as if that wasn't difficult enough, they must follow up their decision with action. Making a decision is a half-measure... they actually have to get off their butts and take the time to register and vote!

Voting allows a person to share in the greatness that is their country. An informed voter may not always get what he wants, but at least he is making an honest effort to be heard. Unlike the sentiments of the “get out the vote” campaigns that are looking for voters under every rock, prison cell or college campus, I strongly feel that people who haven't made any effort to learn about the candidates don't have a duty to vote. A right, yes, but duty, no.

Is increasing voter participation a good thing? After all, many democratic nations, such as Belgium and Australia, have compulsory voting laws. Perhaps I am nave, but to me voter “participation” is more than just forcing disinterested people to the polls to be influenced by the last TV ad they saw. Remember, in many dictatorships everyone votes... but everyone also knows who the winner will be. Talk about a meaningless vote!

A vote is not “right” or “wrong”, except for the vote without purpose or soul. So if you wish to exercise your right to vote... please vote your heart, vote your conscience, vote your self-interest, whatever it may be. But lets all quietly hope the coin-flippers stay home.




In 1995, the University of Northern Iowa established the National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS) under a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Injury Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta. NPPS hopes to see a decline in the nearly 200,000 annual playground-related injuries suffered by America's youth. Here are some ideas to keep your own backyard or schoolyard playground as safe as possible...


As we age, the indiscretions of our youth come back to haunt us. Our backs become weaker and our knees ache, making it necessary to increase the height of our toilets. Though a bulky, extra-thick toilet seat is one solution, many people want their toilets to look “normal”. As an alternative, consider an “ADA-approved” toilet, which invisibly adds inches of comfort and convenience. Many companies now offer these uplifting toilets and they are available at virtually any home or plumbing supply store!



Dear NH,

I was visiting my local hardware store and was talking to the clerk about paint for a small plastic laminate countertop in my bathroom. He suggested a new spray paint from Krylon called “Fusion”. The instructions on the can say that it is can be used on plastic lawn furniture but doesn't mention countertops. Will this paint work on a countertop?

PS from Carbondale, IL


I haven't used the product myself, so I figured the best place to start was the product's description on the Krylon website. The site indicates that Fusion will bond to many “most” plastics including lawn furniture and wastebaskets. It is also recommended for ceramics, plaster, glass, hard vinyl, metal paper, wicker and wood... as are their other spray paint products.

Since countertops and plastic laminates were not specifically mentioned, I decided to contact Krylon directly. Here is their response:

“At this time, Krylon does not offer a paint that can be used on laminate. However, you may consider using the new Krylon Fusion. Keep in mind, the Fusion product has not been "officially" tested over Formica or laminated surfaces yet. Although in theory the Krylon Fusion should bond to these surfaces, provided they are clean, dry, and lightly scuff sanded, we can not guarantee the long-term performance. There is a risk that the solvents used in the Fusion formula may initially lift or dissolve the laminate adhesive.

I can only suggest that you test it to determine if it is suitable for your application. Apply the Fusion to a test area. Allow the Fusion Paint to cure for a full 7 days. Test the surface by scratching the test area with your fingernail. It should resist scratching if the paint has bonded correctly. This will give you a pretty good indication of how the product will perform on your particular surface over the long run. If the paint film is holding well, you may apply the system with more confidence.”

Spray paints cling tenaciously to many surfaces and are virtually idiot-proof provided you (1) follow the manufacturer's prep instructions and (2) always apply multiple thin coats (with a few minutes drying time between them) to prevent dripping and sagging.

I agree with Krylon's assessment regarding the contact adhesive that holds the plastic laminate to the wood substrate. It is possible that the solvent might cause a slight release in the adhesive near the edges of the countertop. Then again it might have no effect at all! By following their recommendation of an initial topcoat followed by sufficient drying time, you will minimize the time the solvent is active and minimize the chance of the laminate lifting.

One unanswered question... is there any advantage in using Fusion instead of one of their other spray paints on surfaces other than flexible plastics? My gut feeling is that, on a hard surface like plastic laminate, probably not. One characteristic of plastic furniture is that it bends and flexes “significantly” in normal use. Fusion was undoubtedly designed with this flexibility in mind. Laminate countertops are fairly rigid, so flexibility is not a concern. Most of their spray paints (aside from the softer latex products) should stand up well on laminate surfaces.

First, please note many paints are not suitable for food contact surfaces. Various preservatives and other chemicals (which remain in the paint long after drying) are not meant to be ingested. I would be cautious when using any paint on kitchen countertops.


Dear NH,

I am building a home that has some interior log walls. I was told that I could use Linseed oil and turpentine 50/50 as a stain alternative lightly sanding between coats. I'm looking for a finish that won't yellow or degrade with time. Most of the walls are only in indirect sunlight.

MH from Glendo, WY



Linseed oil wouldn't be my first choice. Read the article on the topic to see why I feel this way:

I would suggest looking into shellac as one alternative if you want a "natural" finish. I have a new article courtesy "The Zinsser Company" posted at this url:

Polyurethane yellows with age, which becomes very obvious on light woods or over light or “natural” stains, so it might not be suitable for you.

Another alternative is a water-based clear acrylic finish. Clear acrylics add no color whatsoever to the wood and are extremely durable. They go on "milky" but dry crystal clear.

I would suggest purchasing a small container of each product and experiment on scrap material to see which finish is most acceptable to your taste.



7) PASS THE HAMMER, WOULD YA? ... NH'S readers speak out!

A note from NH: The first two letters touch on security issues at our website. One is a question... the other an accusation! We hope that it will help all our readers understand where we stand on the cutting-edge issue of security and privacy.

Dear NH,

I wanted to enter your “Water Leak Contest” but I noticed the page did not have a “security lock logo” on the page so I didn't enter my name, address and email. Do you think this was a mistake? Or are you about to fix this? Certainly no one wants to take a chance on spy software getting their personal info.

S from KS


Since our contests are free and we do not require or even ask for any financial-related information, there is no need to use expensive "secure connections" for our contest entry forms. A secure connection is vital if you are giving credit card information when making purchases online.

Though I wish it weren't so, the fact is even with the "security lock", there is no guarantee that the information you give will not be shared or sold to a million telemarketers! The security lock only indicates that the information you give is encrypted so it cannot be read if intercepted. What the website does with your personal information AFTER they receive it should be in their "Privacy Policy". Most responsible websites have a privacy policy that describes how they will use the personal information you supply in the form.

In the end, it's the security policy and reputation of the website that ultimately determines how safe your information is. On our websites, we do not share or sell the names, home or email addresses of our readers with anyone. Being a "small" website, we strive to grow through visitor loyalty and trust.

The whole issue of security is so complicated that it's difficult for anyone to know what's safe and what's not! For example, my mother-in-law is learning to use her first computer (she's turning 83 this month!) and I have warned her not to buy anything online unless either myself or my wife give her the okay. We're afraid that her natural trust of people will be taken advantage of online.

Saying "Let the buyer beware" sounds a little old and worn, but in a world where so many online business' have no scruples, only our own "gut instincts" and self-education can protect our privacy and security!


Dear NH,

I have visited your site and entered your sweepstakes for quite some time now and I have never had a problem until today. You have a new sweep on your page that is nothing short of a scam. I tried to enter the contest and after submitting my information my phone began to ring. I received three calls within about five minutes trying to sell me a time share.

Is this what your company and your website is all about, if so, COUNT ME OUT!! I have entered sweeps in my spare time for years (and I am quite lucky, too) and nothing like this has ever happened to me before. I cannot believe that a reputable site would let such a hoax to be displayed on their web page.

Needless to say, I will not be entering any of your sweeps or visiting your site again and neither will anyone I know. A lot of the people I know purchase from your site and they will be interested to learn of my experience and perhaps they may change their shopping habits. In conclusion all I can say is "SHAME ON YOU!

LG from Springfield, MO


I'm sorry you had a bad experience with a link through our website. I can tell you with absolute certainty that none of our own contests (with entry forms are on our website) have any connection to telemarketers. We don't even ask for your telephone number in our entry form! (Put that in your pipe and smoke it!)

There are other contests on our website that are not controlled by us. For example, we occasionally have contests that are being run by well-known home repair companies such as “Milwaukee Tool” and “Rockler Woodworking”. These contests are not on our website, so we do not have any control over them or their policies. We make them available through our contest page because we believe our readership would be interested. These companies have posted privacy policies that describe how they may use your personal information.

Similarly, there are also "text advertisements" on pages throughout our website. They are conspicuously labeled "ads". They are often related to the articles we offer, making them a valuable addition to our website. Our contest pages have such ads. Because we do not select these ads it's impossible to review them individually.

A person must be careful of the information they give to an unknown website. Most websites have “privacy policies” that describe how they will use your personal information. Read them before filling out any forms, and write to the company if you have any uncertainty. Though this may be a pain, it is a sad fact that the Internet is loaded with traps and fraud, and only your diligence and caution can protect you from these unscrupulous websites.


Dear NH,

I have just purchased a wrought iron chiminea and the setting up
instructions include the use of sand and ceramic biscuits. Is the sand and
ceramic biscuits only used for clay chimineas, or do you have to use them
for wrought iron ones as well?



A cast iron chiminea should be treated with the same respect as a wood stove, maybe even more, because the casting is probably of lower quality and less resistant to cracking. That means keeping the fire size small and not burning if rain is due soon! Otherwise, you might end up with a big, cracked iron doorstop!

All wood stoves, whether they be vented interior stoves or outdoor chimineas, require a nonflammable, heat-absorbing material to separate the intensely burning wood from direct contact with the stove's body. Clay chimineas, for example, need sand to protect the bottom from heat AND as a cushion from possible damage from a dropped log!

On the other hand, many metal chimineas have a built-in grill. If yours does, you probably don't need to add sand to the bottom (though I would if the manufacturer recommends it). After the first few burns, the ash will offer some heat insulation from hot cinders.

If your chiminea doesn't have a grill, though, I highly recommend using sand as an insulator. Sand is cheap and available at any hardware store. Chiminea "rocks" are okay if you want the fancier appearance and are willing to spend the extra money. However, once you get a layer of ash on them the rocks won't look much different than sand.


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