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Handyman Letter - February 2005

In This Issue:

1) Feeling the burn again... 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!

“Mastering the Miter Saw, Parts 1 and 2” by Gary Katz


FEELING THE BURN AGAIN... a message from the Natural Handyman

In this spot, I've occasionally mentioned my love of the pursuit of physical fitness. I say “pursuit” because I have yet to catch it. Sure, at times I have felt physical fitness brush against my fingertips as I lunged forward, only to have it's cozy warmth slip from my grasp. Of course, my fall is usually cushioned by a soft, snoozy couch or a fully popped bag of microwave popcorn. That, my friend, is the rub... too much sitting and not enough doing has made some unwanted anatomical changes in your favorite handyman!

As if turning 55 this January wasn't enough stress, my wife thought she'd be cute and buy me something we'd both benefit from. No, we didn't go shopping to Victoria's Secret, and she didn't pack a new Rowenta Steam Iron in that little envelope. (She knows well enough to keep me away from the laundry!) No, I found a gift certificate for 5 sessions with a personal trainer. Hmmm... turn nice handyman into eye candy. Who's this gift for, anyway?

One condition was to experiment with different training techniques and to work on bodyparts I had avoided. The one's that require the most agony, of course! Most of my training had been linear, straight movements without a lot of bending or stretching. That was about to change. My trainer “du jour” was a young, tough little dominatrix named Tarra. Her soft spoken, quiet assurance was ready to kick my sorry abs from here to Sheboygan!

Since my teens, I had been weight training with varying intensities and differing goals, sometimes athletic, sometimes aesthetic and sometimes therapeutic, but hard enough to know that the pain ALWAYS precedes the gain. Yet aside from a 5 year stint in Tang Soo Do karate back in the seventies, I have never been so sore! Or so loving it! To paraphrase a Carly Simon song, “I feel my abs... burn... under my shirt... I feel my spine tight'ning down, a tight'ning down!” Oh, the joys of asprin!

All kidding aside, there is something to be said for hard, smart training. The hardest part can be keeping on track and motivated. And there's something special about having a “tour guide's” unique perspective, while leading you into muscular places you thought you knew, but really were only driving by!

Or, as Dr. Frankenstein was heard to say, “It's alive!! It's alive!!”

Ouch. Yes, it hurts when I laugh!




SELLING OR BUYING A HOME? We've started a new area with articles to help you buy, sell or invest in real estate with articles by people who have been there and done that! There's sure to be something of interest to anyone who owns a home or has home ownership in their future. 

INSTALLING AND REPAIRING DRYWALL can be an endless chore for the modern homeowner... or a great big hole in the wallet! The fact is most drywall work can be done by any able-bodied man or woman with a little guidance. So we have begun a collection of repair and installation articles to give you that nudge you need to fix that darn hole!!



Dear NH,

Is it possible to repair corroded brass plated bathroom fixtures? After years of cleaning they aren't very brassy any more.

LE from Venice, CA


Unfortunately, once the brass plating is corroded through to the base metal, there is no cost-effective repair. Some fixtures, however, do allow limited parts replacement. I suggest visiting the website of the manufacturer and see if the corroded part is available separately. Many of the larger manufacturers now have blow-up views of their fixtures posted online. All you have to do is disassemble the faucet and replace the part.

Alas, this is the price to be paid for purchasing brass-plated as opposed to solid brass fixtures. Given that solid brass fixtures are so pricey, it's usually cheaper to replace the less expensive faucets every few years than to buy the upscale brass! Another bonus to replacing a bathroom fixture is the room will feel almost brand new!


Dear NH,

I have a cabin and was told to leave hot water on because the cold water will rust the tank faster? Is there any truth to this?

PE from Deerwood, MN


Chemical reactions such as oxidation... the technical name for rusting... always occur faster at higher temperatures, meaning that hot water would technically speed up rusting. That said, water tanks are coated inside with a ceramic material that helps resist rust, but this is an imperfect coating subject to cracking which is why all tanks eventually rust and leak.

I don't know of any scientific studies on whether or not letting a domestic hot water holding tank cool has any significant effect on the lifespan of the tank, but my guess is that the difference would be minimal.

However, there are other factors to consider before leaving the water heater on. Keeping the tank hot will shorten the life of all the electrical components (through normal use, that is). Also, it wastes electricity... and your money... to keep the tank hot through long periods of non-use. So unless you use the hot water every day or two, you're probably wise to turn the tank off between visits. Needless to say, if the tank may be subject to freezing temperatures you'd probably want to keep it on but adjust the heater's thermostat(s) to the lowest setting.

When the tank fails "someday", you might want to consider a tankless water heater, which draws no electricity when not being used but will give you hot water instantly when you need it!

Dear NH,

My new toilet flapper closes too quickly for an effective flush. It has a chain, and attached to the chain is a small yellow float disc, then the flapper. How do I adjust these parts for a longer flush time?



Some water-saving toilets use a special flapper that will not float by itself when you push the flush handle. In technical terms, the flapper lacks the hollow thingamabob underneath that holds an air bubble to make the flapper buoyant. Instead, the plastic foam float attached to the chain pulls the flapper up when flushed.

To increase the length of the flush, simply reposition the float so it is closer to the flapper. Conversely, to decrease the length of flush you must reposition the float further from the flapper. Overadjustment in either direction may cause the toilet to either not flush at all or flush very “nonproductively”.

Regarding adjustment, many of these floats utilize plastic retaining disks that interlock with the chain to hold the float in place, often one disk above and one below the float. Unlock the retainers, slide the float down to the position you want and relock them to hold it in place.

If it's too tight in the toilet for you to do this easily, disconnect the flapper and bring it up top to make the adjustment.

Dear NH,

I've scraped the pop corn finish off of my ceiling. I washed the ceiling to remove dust. I then applied Behr's enamel undercoater, primer and sealer. Now that it's dried, I can scrape the primer off. I accidentally hit it with my putty knife and it will peel off like a vinyl sheet. Why?

DP of Casavant, FL


Behr's enamel undercoater is a good water-based primer meant to be used on smooth wood surfaces to prepare them for latex or alkyd (oil) enamels. But I would never recommend a water-based product such as this for the circumstance you describe.

The lumpy paint on sprayed ceilings is primarily a gypsum-like product (that's what wallboard is made from) in a water/adhesive suspension. Scraping and then simply washing the ceiling will still leave behind some dusty residue. (This is also the case after wallpaper removal where there is almost always some slight glue residue and/or dust.) That coating of dust keeps the Behr primer from adhering as strongly as you'd like. Though it might never have loosened without your “accident”, you can see the result of using the wrong primer.

An oil-based primer/sealer such as Kilz or Zinsser 123 adheres much better in this situation than water-based products. (I acknowledge that there is some difference of opinion in this, but you're asking my opinion.)

Of course, you can try to strip the entire ceiling but I doubt you'd want to. Mondo work! If you're lucky, the enamel primer will adhere acceptably on most of the ceiling. Instead of removing the primer, recoat the entire ceiling with an oil-based primer/sealer to totally seal it from future moisture which may cause it to lift when, for example, you apply a water-based ceiling paint. Then, do a repair on the section you gouged with wallboard compound. Reprime the repair and coat the ceiling with whatever paint you want.

Dear NH,

I have a question about my refrigerator. The manual says to clean the dust off the front of the metal coil at the bottom of my fridge. I removed the plastic guard but I can see lots of dust inside the coil towards the back, bottom and top. I can't clean this unless I turn the fridge upside down! What good is it to clean the front part when the other 3 sides are caked in lint? Does the air still get through?

Also, does turning my refrigerator's temperature controls from10 down to 2 save me on energy cost? Or does it make my refrigerator run more? At 2 it runs for 7 minutes and stays off for 24 minutes. Thanks.

TP from Jackson, MS


There is a long, thin brush designed to clean this area. Unplug the refrigerator and carefully work the brush back and forth around the coils. The dust will drop to the floor and then can be vacuumed up. You can slide a piece of cardboard or paper underneath the refrigerator to catch some of the dust if desired. Sometimes it's easier to roll the refrigerator into the middle of the room to do this.

Regarding your energy consumption question, the higher the number on the dial the colder the refrigerator (or freezer) will be. Making the refrigerator colder will increase the energy it uses, so it will cost a little more to run.

You shouldn't raise the temperature too high (by lowering the number on the dial) or your food will spoil prematurely. Aside from leaving it at the manufacturer's recommended setting, the only way to know for sure if your food is cold enough is to put a thermometer inside. Recommended temperatures are:

Refrigerator: 40 degrees F
Freezer: 0 degrees F

Of course, lowering these temperatures may keep food safe longer BUT do not let the refrigerator area get below 32 degrees or some fresh food may be damaged by freezing. Again, use a refrigerator thermometer to know precisely what's what!

Take care,


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

Dear NH,

In your article on compression fittings, you state, “Though the primary advantage of compression fittings may seem to be in their ease of assembly, their real advantage is in their ease of disassembly! If you look throughout your home, you will see that the use of compression fittings is generally limited to appliances and fixtures that will... given enough time, normal use, and wild beatings with a hairbrush... wear out and need to be replaced. Look under your bathroom vanities, behind your toilets, under your dishwasher or behind your refrigerator... and you will see compression fittings in flagrante delicto!”

By your last comment, "in flagrante delicto", do you mean the improper use of these fittings or the abundance use of these fittings?

DS from South Orange, NJ


"In flagrante delicto" has two typical meanings. One is to be caught in the commission of a crime. (Using compression fittings is not a crime, at least in my state!)

The second meaning is being caught in the act of having "adult relations". (Ooops! Have to be careful here... don't want your spam filter to toss our newsletter!)

The use of the term in our article is intended as tongue-firmly-planted-in-cheek humor, hinting at how those sneaky compression joints are "doing their thing" in all sorts of hidden places. Obviously not as good a joke as I thought! Or, as my mother used to say, if you have to explain a joke, it isn't!

Dear NH,

On the page that recommends bending a hinge to keep a door from swinging, you say to remove the hinge pin and then keep saying to bend the "hinge." Reinstall the "hinge." You must mean to bend the pin? It seems to be a great idea but I don't want to bend the wrong thing.

BA from St. Cloud, FL


Time to shoot the editor! Sorry about that, BA. I meant to suggest slightly bending the hinge "pin", not the hinge itself. To be picky, I suppose you could have slightly bent one of the female sections of either hinge leaf to get a similar effect, but too much of a bend could make the hinge useless! Hinge pins are easier to replace!

Take care,


                    COPYRIGHT 2005 G. George Ventures, Inc., All rights reserved.

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