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Handyman Letter - May 2005

In This Issue:

1) Life is a stage, and we're the stunt men!... a message from the Natural Handyman

2) Sweepstakes Central... Win great home repair stuff!!

3) News from the Basement Annex!!

4) Q&A with our readers

5) Linkmaster's Corner

6) "Pass the hammer, would ya?"... NH's readers speak out!

"Room for Improvement" by Barbara K


LIFE IS A STAGE, AND WE'RE THE STUNTMEN!... a message from the Natural Handyman

Every now and then I wonder, “Will I be found out?” Ever have the sense that you are in the wrong place, or that you really aren't who everyone thinks you are? Perhaps you are a businessman, a nurse or postal worker. You get up every morning and do the best job you can. But in your mind's eye there is a nagging doubt that your success is not your own but an accident, and someone will see you for what you are... a fake!

How is it possible that we could feel like stunt men in our own lives, stand-ins for our real selves who are much less confident and brave than the face we show to the world each day? I think it's because we're wired that way!

Compulsive Pollyannaists aside, self-doubt afflicts most everyone at one time or another. What I find most interesting is that it's “customized” to match our personalities and our experiences. To imply that my battles with self-doubt are the same as yours would be ridiculous. I've had clients who can publicly speak in front of thousands with absolute confidence yet visibly shiver at the sight of a hammer! Even people who live together... spouses, friends, siblings... all have different strengths and doubts.

Doubt is natural. Even the most successful people know that every day they step into the world, failure is possible. Whether we succeed or fail is as important in the big picture as how we deal with our self-doubt and its bedfellow, fear. Fear, our instinctual reaction to the unknown, is a huge obstacle to success because it stops us dead in our tracks! We are the “deer in the headlights”, standing immobile as the 18-wheeler bears down! Fear paralyzes and disorients, making even the simplest actions impossible and sometimes leads to wrong-headed decisions.

That's the conundrum. Fear protects us from failure because it prevents action! Unfortunately, the protective nature of fear also prevents success. So we neither succeed nor fail... we just float in a middle-world that is gray, mushy and boring! Boring!

Though I wish it weren't so, fear doesn't ever completely go away. Ever hear a famous actor or singer talk about their “butterflies” before they perform? Taking on new challenges, even for a trained person, can be a scary thing! By treading into unseen places we put ourselves at risk of failure, embarrassment and even harm.

People throughout history have taken those risks, negotiated with doubt and moved past fear. These real “stunt men” don't jump cars with motorcycles, dive from rooftops or do fancy martial arts moves. They make difficult, sometimes unpopular decisions. They dare to move forward when everyone else is moving sideways. Whether it is a military leader planning a battle or a parent enforcing an strict curfew for an unruly child, these people are the backbone of society because the have a vision and stand by it, taking heed of opposition but not compromising their values. Trust me, we'll never see a monument to the indecisive!

Yes, sometimes these decisions are wrong... very wrong. Any decision can be the wrong one. But making no decision... letting fate determine our life's course... almost inevitably becomes the wrong decision, too.

Get the picture? We should all challenge ourselves to be the stunt men for our friends, our families, our communities. We do this by committing to positive actions. Learn and gain confidence in whatever you pursue. Most good parents allow their children lots of room to fail. Those little childhood missteps teach resilience that we as adults need to move through a difficult, sometimes confusing world.

Get out there! Make something happen. Expand your possibilities by taking a chance. Or, if necessary “Take one for the team!” Our own actions can make the impossible become possible and fear, who can never be our friend, becomes less a dictator and more a side-seat driver in our lives!




Really. If you don't believe me, just read this great article on installing solid-surface countertops... and saving a bunch of moolah!

It's not your Daddy's pressure-treated wood anymore! As you may be aware, the old arsenic-based preservative has been under attack by environmentalists for years. In response, your lumberyard now carries outdoor wood with kinder, gentler preservatives. (We hope!) Now that the sawdust has cleared, we've updated our site with the latest available information on handling this unique outdoor building material, including some recent EPA recommendations concerning sealants.

CONCRETE AS A DECORATING MEDIUM is nothing new, but it is being rediscovered by craftsmen as the interest in concrete countertops, furniture, walls and other indoor applications continues to grow.



Dear NH,

I'm changing the color of our living room from teal blue to a deep red. I was told at the paint store that I should use a primer and that it should be tinted. However, the tint is going to add almost $5.00 to the cost of a $20.00 gal. of primer? Is this really worth it? The finish paint will cost about $30 a gallon.

PB from Hartford, CT


Painting with deep colors can be a challenge. Making a jump around the color chart is even more daunting! The transition from one deep color to another requires paint with great hiding properties. After all, if the blue “leaks” through the red, you will end up with a different color than you expect. So you might think that putting a white primer on the walls would mask the blue, right?

It would, but only if you planned to paint the walls white or off-white. Unfortunately, the white will appear through the new red paint! No matter how hard you try, it is virtually impossible to apply a truly even coat of paint to a wall. Even when the colors are somewhat close (changing between different off-whites, for example) single-coat coverage is a myth! (Frankly, about the only time single-coat coverage is adequate is when lighting conditions are consistently poor, such as basement walls, window-less rooms or closets.)

With deep colors, the problem of coverage and consistent paint thickness becomes a serious decorating issue. Thinner areas of red over a white primer will leak more white than others, giving an “amateurish” roller-marked appearance to the wall, even after multiple coats. Also, there will be more stray brush marks for the same reason, and these can look worse than the roller marks!

Primers are designed to do two things, to (1) hold firmly onto the old paint and (2) give a sound, even foundation for the finish paint to grab, giving better coverage per coat. A properly-tinted primer and two coats of your red finish paint will probably be enough to give total, even coverage to the blue.

If you don't prime, you might find you need three or more coats of the more expensive finish paint! This isn't just conjecture or theory... I know from personal experience! A client of mine who always did her own painting called me in frustration after three full-coats of deep red over white primer in her office did not evenly cover the walls! I suggested getting a gallon of primer tinted to match the walls and then recoating with the red. That did the trick.

Best yet, you don't even have to choose the color of the primer! Most of the better paint stores can give you the ideal primer color for your chosen deep shade so there's little guess work in primer color selection.

The moral to this story is that taking shortcuts can sometimes be more expensive (and time-consuming) in the long run!



Dear NH,

I want to replace the tile backsplash between my countertops and the upper cabinets. The size of the tile is 2”x2”. What is the easiest way to remove this tile without damaging the drywall behind it? I don't care about breaking the existing tile as it will go straight to the trash.

TL from Houston, TX


There is no way to remove the tile without tearing the paper face off the drywall. But that is not all bad news. Though the top surface of the paper will rip off (and assuming this rehab has not been done before), there should still be a thin layer of paper left behind, bonded permanently to the gypsum underneath. In fact, this is a good thing from a preparation standpoint because you can get all the old glue off without much fuss, muss or use of solvents. Just peel of all old adhesive, paper attached, making sure you leave no lumps or high spots.

Starting the tile removal may be the toughest part because they're not only glued to the wall but bonded together by the grout. If the tiles only span part of the wall, the job is easiest. Start at the mid-wall exposed end and slide a 2-3” putty knife underneath the tiles to pry them off.

If the tiles are wall-to-wall, another starting point would be at an outlet, but be careful to turn the power off. Otherwise, you may have to scrape out the grout to get between two tiles to pry them off the wall. You might even have to break or drill into a tile to get started. If the wall behind gets damaged, you can do a repair before retiling. Once you get a few tiles removed, though, the rest should come off easily.

When all tiles are removed, prime the drywall surface with an oil-based primer-sealer. Once completely dry, sand till reasonably smooth, wipe off all dust and stick the new tile right over the top of the remaining paper. The reason you have to seal prior to installation of the new tiles is because the moisture from the adhesive, be it thinset or adhesive mastic, may cause the unprotected, torn paper to separate from the gypsum. Once you seal it, though, the wall will be as-or-more impervious to moisture than plain drywall.



Dear NH,

A group of us from church are going to Grenada to do a rebuilding mission. Grenada, we are told, uses 220v. There is a generator to provide 110v for some tools but obviously it won't make sense for all of us to bring all our tools. Purchasing 220v tools doesn't make economic sense either. I thought maybe some of the battery powered tools would accept 220v for the chargers but all that I find are 110v only. So maybe I can use a 220 - 110 v converter to power the chargers. It wouldn't have to be as hefty as needed to directly drive a tool.

PW from Palmyra,VA


I have no experience in this type of endeavor, but I would guess you are not the first group to have this concern.

As you indicate, investigate voltage converters for the tools you decide bring. You can get one to handle most small power tools for under $30.00. Circular saws and other more power hungry tools can also use a converter, but they will cost $50.00 or more per tool making purchasing the tools there look more attractive. You could probably resell the converters to another church group or other people via eBay when you return.

Of course, tools are heavy and I wonder what the cost would be to ship them? Adding all these costs might make you lean towards purchase. Also, the purchased tools could conceivably be resold to another group that may be arriving. You'd have to do some checking around to know for sure. This would be wonderfully cost effective for all groups involved and spread out the cost to take the burden off your group. In fact, it would seem that having a “tool exchange” of some kind for various mission groups might be a fine and helpful “mission” in and of itself!

Or just donate the tools to a church. They could lend them to their congregation... I'm sure they would be useful there, too, and available again if you ever return!



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

Dear NH,

Last newsletter you discussed cleaning plastic lawn chairs. My solution is to throw the chairs in the pool for a while. The chlorine will do the job
We are all lazy in Australia!



I love it! I knew that big, chlorinated pond in the back yard was good for something other than collecting insects!


Dear NH,

This is far and away one of the easiest sites to navigate! Clear information, (humor too!) Nice to be able to go where it actually says it is and the alphabetical listings are so darn logical. What a concept eh? Thank you!

MS from Windsor, CO


I appreciate your kind words, but I really can't take full credit. The idea of a physical index of our major articles isn't original... I stole it from the book publishing industry! What decent home repair book doesn't have an index in the back? Frankly, I can't remember the last time I looked at a book's table of contents... I always flip to the index.

In the planning stages of "Natural Handyman" (1996 seems so long ago!), my motivation was not to have a large site. I simply wanted to post a few dozen original articles as a sales tool to break into traditional book, magazine and newspapers. Then, I could move to Hawaii and play "air hammer" (the handyman's version of playing air guitar) on the beach... between waves.

After a number of unsuccessful attempts at publication (publishers told me I was a "nobody" in a glutted industry), I changed course. As fate would have it, the WWW was not destined to be the means to my end... it was the beginning! I had just been too close-minded to realize it. So I ceased trying to woo the traditional media and focused on both writing and publishing on my own terms. I had to start from the ground up, of course, and learn everything myself. Making a website in those days wasn't as easy as it is today! Site design programs were buggy so I had to learn the language of the Internet, HTML, and became self-educated in web design, search engine optimization and other nerdy pursuits. I've had the good fortune to be able to get more information to more people than I ever could have through a book.

Search engines were much less sophisticated back in BG (before Google), so finding specific information online was often a two-step process... find the homepage of a site through the search engines and then find the specific article. So it was logical, at least at the time, to have a true index. Over the years, many sites have abandoned them because they can't be automatically generated for complex websites... at least if you want them to make any sense! Search engines are so much easier (we use Google for our onsite search) but I decided to stick with an index also. So every new article is added to our primitive list with the loving attention it deserves... like a newborn reaching out to the world! Wah!!! (Yuck! Where are the diapers?)

And though there's still loads of work to be done on our site, it's always gratifying to hear that we are doing something right!

Take care,


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