From Dan Harding on January 26, 2009 in Tools and Tips
This Old House has guided and entertained us through eons of remodeling over the years. Ya gotta love ‘em. Now, being the ever-so-pleasant helpers that they are, the brains behind TOH have put together a comprehensive list of skills for surviving the daily dilemmas of homeownership. Here are 10 skills that caught my eye, mostly for their simplicity and undeniable usefulness:
- Reusing paint thinner. After cleaning paint brushes in a wide-mouth jar, remove them and let the residue separate and settle to the bottom. Wait a few days, then pour the separated contents into a different jar, cap, and save for later use. Let the paint residue harden and discard.
- Fixing a hammer mark on trim. On a finished surface such as trim, poke the area repeatedly with a needle to create pores and drop several drops of water on it. Cover the area with a damp rag and iron it on the cotton setting. The absorbed water will evaporate and expand the crushed wood. In order to concentrate the iron’s heat on the dented area only, place an upside down bottle cap over it. Repeat the process until the wood regains its shape.
- Repair a doorbell. A doorbell has three parts: the switch, the bell, and a transformer connecting the two. First check the wire connections in the switch. Touch the two wires together (the voltage is too low to be dangerous). If the bell rings then the problem is the switch. If nothing happens or a strange noise ensues, then check the bell. Clean it, inspect wiring, and make sure the hammer isn’t bent away from the bell or jammed with dirt. If you still get nothing then the transformer is the problem. That will require an electrician.
- Securing a loose screw. Everyone has a screw loose once in a while. To fix it you need to fill in the hole. Use some kind of wood (matchstick, toothpick, golf tee, etc.) packed in tightly with the help of carpenter’s glue. An improvement on that method is to use a 3/8-inch dowel: First drill a 3/8” hole. Cut off a small section of dowel, dab it with glue, and tap it into the hole until it is tight. Wait for the glue to dry then use a chisel or saw to cut the excess wood flush with the surface. Drill a new pilot hole and reattach the screw.
- Solder a copper pipe. Learning basic plumbing skills such as these can save you a lot of money. First make sure that the area to be joined is absolutely clean with no water or grit inside the pipes. Then…
- Deburr the inside of the pipe with a reamer and clean the outside with emery cloth.
- Apply flux to both pipes and fit them together. Where flux is, solder will flow.
- Hold a propane torch on one side of the joint until the flux begins to bubble. Touch the solder to the opposite side of the joint and pull the flame away. As you remove the flame the solder will naturally flow towards the heat, thus getting sucked all the way around the fitting.
- Wipe the joint with a damp rage immediately.
Clean stained grout. Believe it or not, grout can be cleaned even at its worst. Use a steam cleaner. This will bring just about any stain to the surface so that you can simply wipe it away. Apply a penetrating sealer after the fact to keep the grout stain-free.
Drill through tile without cracking it. The key to this trick is to grab a drywall screw and a hammer. Place the screw exactly where you’d like to drill and tap it lightly with the hammer. This will create a divot, penetrating the glaze. Put your masonry drill bit right into that divot and drill.
Avoid stripping a screw. Notice the clutch, or that sliding ring of numbers on your drill. It prevents the bit from turning when the drill motor feels a set amount of torque—less at lower numbers, more at higher numbers. Typically, set it low for small screws and high for large ones, although a low setting is good for drywall to prevent sinking the screw right through the paper.
Give your lightbulb a long life. A big reason why lightbulbs tend to die out suddenly with a flash and a pop is the little brass tab inside the lamp socket. If that tab is dirty or bent then it will interrupt the connection, causing the filament to flash on and off (too fast for us to see) and shortening its life. To prevent that, unplug the fixture or flip the breaker off. Then use a Q-tip and rubbing alcohol to clean the tab. Give it a nudge with a screwdriver if the tab is bent; a cheap trick that is well worth it.
Fix a leaky faucet. The mother of all homeowner headaches is the leaky faucet. It often comes to wasted water, sleepless nights, and an expensive call to the plumber. But most of the time the problem is simply a worn washer inside the handle, an easy fix. First, turn off the water supply under the sink and stuff a rag in the drain to avoid losing any parts. Now take the handle apart by removing the screw cover, then the screw. Disassemble the stem and line up the parts on the counter in the order they came off (important!). Examine any rubber or plastic parts for wear or cracks and take the suspects into the hardware store to get an exact replacement. Reassemble and be done!
Illustration: Jonathan Carlson