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Handyman Letter - November 2005

In This Issue:

1) I'm not ready for Thanksgiving... 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



I'm not ready for Thanksgiving... a message from the Natural Handyman

The divine state of being "Ready for Thanksgiving" may conjure up images of Mom racing around a grocery store with her progeny, filling the basket with family-style foods while little Hannah balances a huge turkey on her lap in the carriage seat. Or merrily searching for the festive holiday tablecloth and matching placemats in a distant corner of the attic... too tacky for everyday use but worth a thousand smiles on Turkey Day.

In our home, though, different and more disturbing images emerge from the holiday fog. For example, there are the recurring nightmares of a chimney that needs cleaning, lest it launch like a bloated bottle rocket to the stratosphere, taking half our den with it! Or the creeping sensation of being buried by millions of oak leaves, angered and suffocating after being buried under feet of snow because I never got that last batch off the lawn.

Then, there are the unfinished outside painting projects or the deck that should have been resealed this year. Or the inside projects that somehow spill to the outside, such as windows that will not close completely for lack of sills or a portable AC that needs removal, lest the heating fuel company take our house!

Oh, the bittersweet taste of time! No matter how much we do, there is always more to be done. Here in the Northeast, Thanksgiving is more than a holiday. It's a marker more clear than the winter solstice... the true start of winter. It moves our minds to the inside, away from the sun and its warmth to the stove and its glow. We look less outside and more inside, anticipating the greens, reds and sparkles that make the coming Christmas season so special.

We are thankful. We're thankful for another day. We're thankful that, despite the impossibilities of life, we continue nonetheless. We're thankful for food, friends and family. We're thankful that, despite our own failings or handicaps, we can find a way to be useful and productive and, in our own small ways, help those whose failings and handicaps exceed our own.

And, of course, we're thankful that, at least for a while, we won't have to mow that darn lawn!




Homes invariably have "dead space", especially homes with small floorplans such as many log homes. Proper home design, forethought and a little creativity can make the best use of smaller spaces!

If it takes Herculean strength to close your sliding glass patio doors, it may be time to replace the rollers! You might need an extra pair of hands, but it's a do-able job for the crafty do-it-yourselfer!

Though we've been through the "Is it a lubricant?" battle before, no one doubts WD-40's ability to protect metals from corrosion under difficult conditions. Here's a little ditty from WD-40 with some hints on protecting your outdoor stuff!



Dear NH,

I removed an L-shaped counter out of my kitchen because it took up a lot of room. The wall in which the old counter was connected also has a pocket door I want to keep. Now, I want to put a flat 4 1/2' counter on the wall (no cabinet underneath it).

Though I need 4 studs to support the countertop, there are only two available. The missing two would be where the pocket door is. How can I support the end where there are no studs?

WM from Middletown, CT


Ideally, having wall studs is the optimal support. But you can do with less in some situations.

First things first. You will need to support the front edge of the countertop, too. You can use either (1) vertical posts or (2)supports attached to the wall and beneath the countertop, angled upwards to near the outside edge of the countertop.

With that in mind, it may be wise to support the entire back edge of the countertop with a ledger board, a 1x2 board attached to the wall. In the area where you don't have studs, use 3/16" or 1/4" toggle bolts through the ledger board, spaced at least 6 inches apart and no more than 12" apart for maximum support. Toggle bolts are surprisingly strong and can easily hold the typical loads on a kitchen countertop. (If the bolt heads are visible, you can recess the holes slightly and fill the holes prior to painting.)

Be extra careful that there is enough clearance for the toggles and their bolts! You don't want the toggles rubbing on the doors and damaging the finish. If perchance the toggles are just too long, use molly bolts instead. Again, you will have to be careful with the length of the bolt but since mollies are stationary when installed, you can always remove the bolts and cut them a little shorter. If you don't use a thread-type bolt cutter, which preserves the threads, screw an appropriately-sized nut onto the bolt prior to cutting it. Removing the nut will help straighten out the threads, which are always somewhat damaged during cutting.

I would recommend using construction adhesive behind the 1x2 if you are using mollies, since they are not nearly as strong as toggles. The combination of glue and fastener will give you plenty of strength... just don't stand on it!

And though this may seem obvious, it's a mistake that gets made over and over again... be sure the door is closed and "out of the pocket" before doing any of this work!

Finally, if desired (or necessary), the countertop can be glued to the supporting board with construction adhesive.


Dear NH,

I am going to place a 1/4" plywood top on my work bench and was wondering about coating it with some type of finish. I am not looking for "gloss" I want the product to protect the plywood from oil stains, water, dirt and so on.

I looked at the local hardware store and noticed Watco product's Danish Oil finish. Would this be a good choice? Your recommendations would be appreciated.

TM from Edmond, OK


I'm sure your reasoning is that gloss is meant for furniture or hardwood flooring. But from a practical standpoint, a gloss finish is much more durable since the gloss comes from a finish that is very smooth and non-porous... which is what makes it reflective or "glossy". (Plus, to this handyman, a glossy workbench is mondo chic!)

Oil finishes, in contrast, are not as durable nor are they resistant to as many chemicals as polyurethane. So I would suggest using gloss polyurethane, at least two coats, and sanding between coats. You will have a beautiful and functional work surface that will resist most common chemicals... with the obvious exceptions of furniture refinisher and paint remover.


Dear NH,

We recently bought a house with a natural rock fireplace. The stones are dark and very sooty. How do we best clean them?

DL from Vista, CA


The first step would be to use a household detergent to remove as much dirt and dust from the stone as possible. Don't use anything with ammonia in it (because of the next step). When thoroughly dry, follow up with a phosphoric acid masonry cleaner, which should work to freshen up the stone and the grout. Cleaning off dirt and oils makes the acids job easier and more thorough.

Though the phosphoric acid in a masonry mix is not extremely strong or as dangerous as muriatic acid, a primarily exterior masonry cleaner, you should nevertheless be sure to have lots of ventilation, wear eye and skin protection and protect everything from the acid except the surfaces you wish to clean. Follow the instructions on the container and be sure to rinse thoroughly when done.

Here's a tip... use a spray bottle or garden sprayer to apply the acid. Much easier, more accurate and neater than trying to apply it with a sponge. The acid will not harm most plastic sprayers, but should be thoroughly rinsed out if you plan on reusing the sprayer.

Take care,


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