Breaking News Bar
updated: 11/4/2011 9:10 AM

Super Handyman: Don't cut back on safety when pruning trees

Success - Article sent! close

There are lots of reasons to prune trees. You may need to cut back a branch to prevent it from damaging your house, especially the roof. You may need more light in your yard. Perhaps the tree is hanging out into the street or over your neighbor's driveway. Maybe it would just look better.

No matter what the reason, you should do it the right way; the problem only will get worse as the tree grows!

Here are some tips to keep in mind.

Safety should be a priority when you are doing the work, so wear gloves, safety glasses and a hard hat if you need one, and get a buddy to spot you for larger projects. Make sure your tools are sharp and in good working order.

Bypass pruners are good for smaller branches. If you trim them back to the trunk or the base of the branch, it should heal over in time.

Larger branches can be removed with a pruning saw. This can be powered or manual. The proper way to cut off a large branch is to make the first cut several inches away from the main trunk on the bottom of the branch and only partially through it. The second cut should be down, farther out from the trunk, and should go all the way through the branch. A third cut should cut off the stub and be close enough to the main trunk to allow the tree to heal over the "wound."

For branches that are higher up or out of your reach, you can use a ladder. Just be very careful. You can use a pruning saw that is attached to an extension pole. This is called a pole saw, and it actually works pretty well. It can be operated from the ground without having to climb a ladder.

If you need to use power, a chain saw is your best bet. Please be very careful so as not to have a massacre of you or the tree.

If your tree needs a lot of trimming, start at the top and work your way down. Professionals might be a little more expensive, but they can get the job done without damaging your property or you, so consider hiring them if you're unsure of your skills.

Extra gripping power

How many times have you tried to put a wrench on a nut and found that it just wouldn't grab hold because the edges of the nut were rounded off? Here's a neat trick that may help you. In some cases, you can put a second, nonrounded nut on the bolt behind the damaged nut. Then grab them both with your wrench. The second nut will allow the wrench to grab hold tighter, and then you can remove them both at the same time.

Counter intuitive

A square clamp is the best way to clamp a project and ensure that it will be perfectly square when it is complete. But there is another way, and it won't require buying a clamp that you may never need again. Just use the corner of a square countertop as your guide. Most counters have an overhang that would be good to clamp the item to. And most counters should be fairly square. If you want to protect the surface from glue or scratches, cover it with waxed paper. Then place your project right on the edge of the corner, square it up carefully and apply your clamps.

Super hints

• Some items are hard to clamp. The surface might be uneven or smooth, and the clamps just won't hold. If you put a piece of rubber, maybe cut from a rug backer or car floor mat, between the teeth of the clamp and the surface, it will hold better and leave fewer marks.

• I recently had to replace the trim around my back door. It had been caulked and then painted, so I needed to cut through the edges. I used a pizza-cutting wheel. This was so much easier, and it worked quickly. Then I was able to get the molding off without damaging the wall. The rest was easy.

• One of the quickest ways to get the debris out of a clogged drain is to vacuum it out with a wet/dry shop vacuum. It's quick and works almost every time.

Q. I have a breaker that keeps tripping. It's the one that services my bathroom, and it has a GFCI on it. But the GFCI isn't ever tripped; it's just the breaker, and it trips about once a week. What do we need to do?

A. First, test the GFCI to make sure it is functioning. If the GFCI is working properly, then it's probably time to call an electrician. It might just be a bad breaker. This can happen, and it's easy for an electrician to replace one. If it's not that, then it could be a problem with the wiring, and you would be better off having a professional trace down the problem and make repairs. Be safe, not sorry.

Q. I'm not ready to replace my whole kitchen floor, but I need to find a way to patch over a gouge in the vinyl. What would you suggest?

A. If the hole is small, you can find some filler for vinyl floors at your hardware store. If you have some leftover flooring, you can grate it up and mix it with the filler for a better look. If the gouge is large, you will have to cut out the damaged area and install a patch made from the leftovers. Use seam sealer on the edges to keep them from peeling up.

Q. I plan to do some pruning of my trees to keep them away from my roof. Last year we had a gutter full of leaves, and I had to clean it out several times during the winter. We even had a branch that was rubbing on the roof, and we had to replace a couple of damaged shingles as a result. After pruning, do you think that pruning paint should be used on a tree?

A. We are not arborists, but in consulting one, they say that it is not necessary if the pruning is done correctly. In fact, the paint even can prevent the tree from healing over the wound, which is vital to the health of the tree.

Reader tips

• I bought our kids' furniture secondhand. It was in really good shape, but a couple of the knobs were missing. I decided to cut holes in the drawer fronts instead of using knobs. I used my router to smooth the edges, and then I painted them to match the beds. They look neat. The kids find it easier to open the drawers too, which means they actually put away their own clothes some of the time.

• This time of year, I'm finished with most of my gardening. I clean up the yard and cut back the shrubs. I turn my garden and get ready for the next growing season. I take the birdhouses down and clean them out. I made this easier by removing the original fasteners, and replaced them with small hinges so I can open them up easily to clean them. It was pretty easy to do on most of the houses, and I usually have plenty of birds every spring, so it must make the birds happy, too.

• My extension ladder is pretty handy, but it's not very steady on muddy ground. I have found that by setting the legs down into some empty tin cans rather than directly on the dirt, it is much less likely to slide or sink while I'm working. The cans just go into the trash when I'm finished working, and as an added bonus, the legs and feet of my ladder stay clean.

• I love the spray lubricants but save money by making my own. I use a small spray bottle full of a lightweight lubricating oil. I can spray a fine mist or a stream of the oil, and it works just as well as the store-bought stuff. Mine doesn't have as much solvent in it, either, which means I can use it on a wider variety of surfaces without damaging them.

• I have started using some of your recipes to make cleaners around my home. I feel like they are safer because they use simple things like baking soda and vinegar. No chemicals are required, so I save my home from contamination and save a ton of money, too! I found a good recipe for furniture polish. I also like it because it's much better for the environment, and since I have a baby, I feel like it's safer to use. I start with olive oil and then add a little vinegar (3-to-1). I put it in a sprayer and shake it before I use it. It gets the grease off the surface and leaves it fresh-smelling and shiny.


• The hardest part of a drywall job is the tape and bedding. The TapeBuddy makes it so much easier. It's a tape dispenser made just for drywall tape, and it puts the mud right on it so it's ready to go up. Just pull out what you need and tear it off, and put it up on the wall, smoothing it as you go. It's lightweight, inexpensive and works like a charm. You'll save time and aggravation, and it even comes with great instructions and a bunch of handy tips that you can use to get really good results. To find out more about the product, go to You can see it in action and find a dealer.

• Graphite has long been the choice for most lock lubricants. It's been around for a long time and does a pretty good job. But Teflon is much easier to use and won't leave a mess behind, like graphite can. Dupont has a great product called Easy Entry, and it's perfect for lubricating locks deep inside to prevent sticking corrosion and damage from ordinary wear and tear. It's very easy to use and has a built-in keyhole applicator to make getting past latch shields much easier. You can find it at auto-parts dealers as well as hardware stores and home centers.

• Write to Al and Kelly Carrell in care of the Daily Herald, P.O. Box 280, Arlington Heights, IL 60006 or visit the Carrells' website at

$PHOTOCREDIT_ON$ 2011, Cowles Syndicate Inc.$PHOTOCREDIT_OFF$