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Handyman Letter - September 2005

In This Issue:

1) Obsess to success?... 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


Obsess to success?... a message from the Natural Handyman

At one time or another, most of us have been insane... at least for a brief period of time. Road rage, tantrums and other brief violent outbursts often fit the test for legal incompetence; the favorite plea of TV lawyers... "temporary insanity". But there are more subtle, non-violent bouts of basic craziness that sometimes have peculiarly positive effects!

One popular, though somewhat clichd definition of insanity is to repeat the same ineffective or self-defeating action over and over despite getting the same negative result. For example, clicking on a website link repeatedly despite the lack of response from your computer. (Personally, I think more temporary insanity is caused by computers and computing than all other factors combined!) And then rebooting, trying again and... gasp... still not being able to complete the "click"! Now that's just borderline obsession. When the keyboard or monitor ends up in the pool, you've moved over into the insane zone!

Obsession has often been associated with insanity, or at the least some mental imbalance. When someone says, "She's obsessed!" it's rarely intended as a complement, especially when given by a spouse, child or significant other competing for your time against the object of your obsession.

In life insurance, car or door-to-door cosmetic sales, obsession is at times a necessity for career survival. The ability to accept rejection constantly may have less to do with a sense of self esteem and more to do with "thick skin"... simply being able to ignore impediments on the road to the goal... the golden sale! This is obsession at its best, leading to some positive result. The obsession/insanity threshold seems to be breached when the success of an effort is lost but the unrequited drive remains. This may be why certain types of failures or disappointments where so much of one's energy is invested, even when the person is not at fault such as death, divorce or natural disaster, can lead to personal and emotional catastrophe! The drive still exists but the goal has been shattered beyond repair.

Both computers and home repair have shown me how strong obsession can be. I'm one of those people who attack a problem like a pit bull and, despite exhaustion and pleadings to come to bed, sometimes I just can't stop trying! Whether it's struggling with the "blue screen of death" or a persnickety plumbing leak, pulling myself away from an incomplete task is painful, even when the consequences of not stopping are equally bad (such as a night in the proverbial "dog house".)

Where do we, the obsessed, go wrong? For me, it's when goal takes more importance than the actual gain. For example, a technology geek can become obsessed with solving a computer problem to the detriment of other aspects of his life... plus minor concerns such as sleep, relationships and eating! His obsession has blinded him to reality that these time-consuming tweaks may never show results in real life. In other words, his efforts are totally wasted.

Or are they? That, my friend, depends. In the long view, obsession can lead to marvelous advances. Look at Howard Hughes obsession with his massive flying boat, nicknamed the "Spruce Goose". Denied aircraft aluminum due to the war, a more normal simply dedicated man would have moved on to another project and probably been just as successful. Yet, the advances in aircraft design and engineering needed to build the plane with the longest wingspan ever, and primarily from wood products to boot, would have been lost.

And we can't forget that sometimes obsession can be great fun. Those of us who play video games know that you must repeat similar actions over and over and over till you finally get the timing right and achieve success! Call me crazy... but I love it!

Just don't call me late for dinner.



Many survivors outside of the most devastated areas may still be looking at long periods without electric power. The CPSC has released common-sense safety recommendations on the use of portable generators, candles and also the dangers associated with wet appliances.

Yellowjacket nests, whether in the ground, an old tree stump or in your home are NOT fun! Here are some tips on how to deal with these potentially dangerous pests.

If last winter made your mailbox post look more like the Leaning Tower of Pisa or road kill... and less like an "official" government receptacle, you might want to catch this article on replacing it. Go ahead... make your letter carrier's day!

Many of us moved to more rural areas to get a little more privacy, quiet and affordable land. However, the typical rural home is quite a distance from the road, making the mailbox flag hard to see from a distance. NH took out his trusty propane torch and made a simple modification to his flag to make "seeing believing"... the mail has arrived!

Thinking of renovating a room? Consider increasing the insulation in the outside walls by making them thicker. As part of a renovation, it is not as hard as you think! Check out the experiences of one of our readers...



Dear NH,

I am an artist and craftsperson. I was disappointed to hear you bash linseed oil as being unhealthy... when, in fact, that is not true. It's humans who add the chemicals to "boiled" linseed oil. Instead, you could instruct your readers to use "RAW" not "BOILED" linseed oil and it's fine. No additives. Just takes awhile to dry.

Here's some further info from a GOV site:

"Boiled linseed, commonly used because it dries faster, is not a good pollution prevention alternative due to the potential toxicity of the solvents, metals and fungicides that are usually added to it. As a result, consumers should be advised to use raw linseed oil and to avoid boiled or thermalyzed forms."

Hope that is helpful.

JW from San Francisco, CA


No, I don't think linseed oil is a demon. My only problem with raw linseed oil, from a strictly "home repair point-of-view" (the only one I have), is that raw linseed oil dries very slowly. If I've received one, I've received a hundred inquiries about why the raw linseed oil coating on a deck or piece of furniture hasn't dried in weeks.

A minimum three-to-four day drying time for a sticky finish is not desirable for most outdoor projects. And that time extends when the surface is shaded or the temperature drops below 50 degrees. That's a long time for bugs, dirt, leaves and other interesting materials to adhere to it making the surface look rather trashy.

Personal experience... I coated a deck with a commercial clear wood preservative with linseed oil as a prime ingredient. It was late in our season (November) but the client wanted the job done. Despite the addition of the chemicals, it was so cool that the deck still smelled of raw oil when things warmed up again in April!

Linseed oil products are primarily used outside the home because the activity of sunlight helps them to oxidize... the primary way that this oil dries. Of course, there are non-home repair uses for linseed oil, such as oil painting where the use of a slower drying oil is not necessarily a bad thing. In these cases where a person is in a room in a close relationship with the oil, use of raw linseed oil is desirable. Plus, my understanding is that other chemicals added to the oil such as pigments, thickeners, etc., have similar drying effects to those of the commercial "boiled" additives.

So I don't mean to demean linseed oil... the comment was simply a statement of the reality of boiled linseed oil for anyone who cared


Dear NH,

I am very interested in knowing what is a "bad" temperature for my attic. What should be the difference between outside/inside temperature of an attic on a summer day vs. a winter day? Should there be a difference between a 78 degree day and a 98 degree day?

I have recently added a ridge vent to my roof and have also been taking temp. readings. I hit 130 degrees in my attic when the outside temp. was 83 degrees. Is this good? What's "good"? Any help in this matter would be greatly appreciated.

JB from Brown Deer, WI


I wouldn't get too obsessed over the temperature readings. Colder is better, but 130 degrees is not really that hot in that typical roofing materials can stand much higher temperatures. According to the Building Science Corporation at, a Massachusetts-based architecture and building science consulting firm, the maximum acceptable temperature of an enclosed attic space near the sheathing is about 180 degrees. They have done much of their testing in Las Vegas and Phoenix, where conditions are the worst, and 150 degree attic temperatures are common.

It's also been found that roofing design and materials have more effect on attic temperature than ventilation. Metal roofs reflect more heat than asphalt roofs, lowering temperatures, and lighter colored asphalt also lowers attic temperatures. Ventilation is important to give moisture within the attic a way to escape. Though most newer homes have extensive vapor barriers to keep living space moisture from getting into the attic, leakage around recessed light fixtures and bathroom vents still allow some moisture to enter the attic. This is not very destructive in the hot seasons, but can cause problems during winter freeze-thaw cycles when this moisture condenses on nails and other metal structures within the attic space.

For most homes, the biggest concern is the effect of attic temperature on living space comfort. The consensus seems to be that if you have the maximum amount of insulation in your attic floor (for your area), lowering the temperature of the attic by 10 or even 20 degrees will have a minimal if any impact of actual heating and cooling costs.


Dear NH,

I stained some pine flooring without knowing that you need to ""condition the wood. I have some steps that have dark blotches. What can I do to correct this, if anything?

SW from Cumming, GA


Pine in notorious for staining unevenly because the wood has a very open, absorbent grain that varies widely from board to board and even within the same board, especially when using dark stains. A wood conditioner, a pre-staining wipe, is applied prior to staining to limit the amount of stain absorbed by the more porous areas. Done correctly, this can result in a more even finish characteristic of hardwoods.
Read the instructions on the conditioner you purchase since there is a time "window of opportunity" for best results. Waiting too long to stain will diminish the effect of the conditioner since it will evaporate... so watch the time!

Commercial stains don't go very deeply into the wood, so you should be able to decrease the contrast of the darker areas by sanding the surface a bit first with a medium-grit sandpaper (120) and finishing with the finer paper (180-220). Be sure to apply the wood conditioner before restaining.

Unfortunately, chemical wood bleaches (hardware stores sell them) don't have much effect on most commercial wood stains, only on certain types of water and ink stains.


Dear NH,

This summer it seems all my doors have been sticking. They are all difficult to open and close. The windows also don't want to open. I assume it has to do with moisture from improved a/c. Is there anything I can do aside from trimming them down? Maybe "Damp Rid"? I didn't want to invest in anything without some advice.

TB from Anderson, SC


You have a common problem without many solutions. "Damp Rid" and similar moisture-absorbent compounds are not very effective, even within the closed spaces they are designed to dehumidify. Though they indeed absorb lots of moisture, they become useless once saturated and need to be dried out. This necessary user-attention gives them a D in my grade book.

Increased air conditioning should lessen your seasonal moisture problem, since AC removes moisture from the air, not increases it as you seem to think. However, since exterior windows and doors only get the lowered humidity on one side, I haven't found AC to be especially helpful in relieving seasonal humidity-related door and window swelling.

For the short term, lubrication on the windows' rubbing areas (wax, stick or paste, for wood windows) can be somewhat helpful. Lubrication on the doors, however, is not very effective, so a little sanding of the rubbing areas can help... just not too much since they will shrink again!

For the long term, a fresh coat of paint can keep swelling under better control. Your old paint job may look fine but those little cracks allow moisture into the wood promoting swelling.

Also, many people don't realize that wood doors must be sealed on ALL edges, including the top and bottom. Sealing the bottom can be a little tricky without removing the door. A method I've used is to soak a rag in a wood sealer or finish. Then, I put a piece of plastic tarp under the door and run the rag between the door bottom and the tarp to coat it. Wipe any excess sealant off the visible surfaces of the door, allow to dry for at least a week and then repaint the rest of the door (including the top).

Take care,

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