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updated: 12/30/2011 1:45 PM

Super Handyman: Under-the-cabinet lights transform the look of your kitchen

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Under-the-cabinet lights are very popular. They add a nice touch, not to mention extra light for your projects. There are several ways to add them -- some more expensive than others. Here are your options.

The easiest of all are the white twinkle lights that we put on our Christmas trees. Carefully staple or tape these lights to the underside of your cabinets and plug them in.

The most expensive route is to hire a contractor to do the wiring and place the lamps along the underside of the cabinets. These will be wired inside your walls and will have a switch to operate them.

Something between these two options will let you do the installation and save some money in the process. Low-voltage "puck" lights are fairly easy to install. The small lamps easily can be mounted to the underside of the cabinets with wood screws. You can mount several fixtures along your cabinets and connect them with wires, either concealed inside the cabinets or just tacked to the underside of the cabinet where they will be hidden. The wiring will plug into a nearby outlet. You can connect a switch to these lights for easier access. Some even can work with a dimmer, and they use a fraction of the power of standard lights.

You'll love the look, and it will give your kitchen a whole new appearance.

Be creative and make your own hangers for pegboard wall

Pegboard, as any good do-it-yourselfer knows, is a super way to organize your shop. But as many hooks and hangers as there are, you can always come up with more. For example, scrap PVC pipe can be hung on a plain hook to hold a wide variety of tools and hardware. Slip sections of scrap pipe over long, protruding hooks, and fill them with items like files, screwdrivers, safety glasses, saw blades and tons more stuff.

Old cardboard box helps make raking leaves a breeze

Raking leaves seems like a never-ending chore. Even when you get the leaves from your trees picked up, your neighbor's leaves are blowing into your yard. One of the hardest parts of the job is bagging those leaves. But we found a super way to save time and your nerves. Find an empty cardboard box, open both ends and put it into the opening of the plastic bag. The box should be large enough to fill up the bag opening. Use tape on the corners of the box to keep it open. Lay the open bag on its side and rake the leaves right into the bag. When it's full, remove the cardboard box and tie up the bag. Move the box to the next bag, and so on and so on and so on ...

Super hints

• Keep your chain saw lubricated quickly and easily while you work by loading the oil into a travel-size squirt bottle. A cleaned-out dishwashing soap or mustard bottle also will work well and won't make a mess.

• We love our hot tub, and use it as often as we can. Of course, we have a lot of bottles of assorted chemicals and additives that we use to keep the water in good shape. We keep them right next to the hot tub in a plastic tub with a watertight cover. The tub originally contained cat litter, and is large enough to hold everything. It even has a handle. I spray-painted it brown to match the hot-tub surround. It's much better than keeping them in the garage or indoors, and since we have to check it daily, it's super handy.

• Vacuum-seal bags, designed for storing clothes and blankets, are great for camping supplies, too. Put tents, sleeping bags and other soft materials into these bags and vacuum out the air. They will pack more easily, take up less room and be waterproof.

Q. I have heard that you can reverse a ceiling fan in winter. I can see a switch on mine that reverses it, too. The problem I have is that I don't know which is the right direction for winter. Can you help?

A. Put the fan on low and observe the direction of the blades. They should push the air down into the center of the room during the summer and pull it up during the winter. This will circulate the warm air back down around the sides of the room to keep you warmer in the winter. If you have trouble seeing the airflow, try holding a stick of smoking incense in different places while the fan is moving, and watch the movement of the smoke.

Q. We have a pier-and-beam foundation. The house is almost 50 years old and is in pretty good shape. We have been told by one of our neighbors to remove the covers over our foundation walls to ventilate the area. Another neighbor says not to. We aren't sure, now, what to do. What are your thoughts?

A. If your foundation and home are in good shape, there should be no moisture to ventilate from this area. If you do have a moisture buildup, then you might consider removing one vent on each opposite side, just to allow for a little more air flow. Taking them all off probably would make your home colder inside.

Q. What is primer, and when should I use it? I am getting ready to make some repairs to my home, and I have a lot of woodwork to repaint. Are there differences in primers that I should know about?

A. Anytime you are covering plain wood, a dark color or any patching material, a primer is a good thing to use. It increases adhesion of the paint, can seal stains and darker colors, and even will help the true color of the paint come through. We think a primer is good to use almost every time you paint. Primers are like paint, in that you get what you pay for, so get a good-quality primer. You can use oil-based or water-based, and that depends on the paint you have chosen for your top coat. Obviously, water-based primer is much easier to clean up and dries faster. It also has less smell.

Q. We are getting our Christmas tree soon and would like to keep it as fresh as we can for as long as we can. Would you please give us your Christmas tree preservative recipe again?

A. Sure. Start with 1 gallon of warm water. Add 4 tablespoons of horticultural iron powder, then 4 teaspoons of liquid laundry bleach and 2 cups of clear corn syrup. Use this in place of water, and your fresh Christmas tree will last a lot longer. To get this tip and more, go to

Reader hints

• My wife decided to put up a bunch of family pictures in our den after we painted the walls. I spent a lot of time patching up the old holes and didn't want to make a bunch of new marks on them. This time, I used masking tape to mark where the hangers would go first. I used a level for the tape and made the marks on that instead of on the wall. Then I mounted the hangers. After that, I tore off the rest of the tape. The pictures are all up in the right places, and my new paint job is still in good shape.

• Our closet is very large and has high ceilings. The inside is very nice, and the shelves and drawers have a cherry finish. I priced a small ladder to keep in the room to reach the top shelves, and was shocked at how much it would cost. I bought a plain wooden ladder and stained it with cherry stain. It looks pretty nice, and I'm sure nobody will know that I paid only a fraction of the price of the fancy one. It works just fine, too.

• I have tried a lot of ways to stir paint before using it. I still prefer to use the wooden stir sticks that come with the paint at my paint store. I take it home and drill holes into the stick with my drill. I usually put six to 10 holes in the stick. This helps mix the paint a little better and, I think, faster. Give it a try. It's FREE, and I know y'all like free!

• My wife buys the snack-size packages of chips, fruit and other goodies for the kids. I like to clean and reuse some of these containers in my workshop. They are great for storing hardware, and I can keep a bunch of them all in one place for easy sorting. I especially like the ones that are clear, so I can see what's inside. The others are easy to write on with a marker.

• I've seen some great pads to put under heavy furniture to help make moving them a little easier. I made my own that work pretty well, too. I cut squares large enough to fit under the legs from an old carpet scrap. I flip them over so the fuzzy side is on the bottom and place them under the legs. They slide right over a wood floor and prevent scratches.


• Baking soda isn't just for baking. As a matter of fact, it can be used for all sorts of things in the shop and home. Baking soda doesn't cost very much, and just about everybody has a box or two in the house, so why not use it to its full potential? We have put together a list of some of our favorite uses.

• Krylon has done it again. Glitter Blast is a spray paint that contains glitter. It can be used on paper, wood, metal, wicker, glass, plastic and Styrofoam. It comes in more than a dozen different colors, and since it's a spray, it dries quickly and is much less messy to work with. Check it out at your paint dealer, hardware store or home center. To find out more, go to

• Dremel Rotary tools are a longtime favorite of most do-it-yourselfers. The new A550 Shield fits onto the tool and protects you from flying debris as the tool works. It allows for safer sanding, grinding, polishing and cutting of all of the assorted materials that it can be used on. Check it out wherever Dremel tools and attachments are sold, or visit and see everything Dremel has to offer.

• 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

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