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posted: 1/13/2012 12:30 AM

Super Handyman: Options for fixing a common problem with drywall

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What do towel bars, curtain rods and sconces have in common? They all hang on a wall, which usually is made of drywall, and over time, the screws will work loose and fall out.

The fact is, drywall is a great material for walls, and with a little texture and paint, it looks good, too. But it's not very strong, and it won't hold a screw forever. It's a common problem, and there are some options you can try for fixing it.

The first thing you might take a look at is the screw itself. The screws that usually come with these appliances are short and will not reach any studs located behind the drywall. If you were lucky enough to have a stud located behind the existing hole in your drywall, you can remove the short screw and install a longer one, which will grab the wooden stud for stability. If the stud isn't behind the original hole, you may have to relocate the device to an area where a stud is in the line of fire.

You can always try a larger-diameter screw. This might work for a while, but then you will end up with the same problem, plus a larger hole in the wall.

There are some really clever anchors that can be used to hold screws in drywall. Some are simple sleeves that can be pushed into the wall before putting the screw back into the hole. Other anchors actually have large threads that hold even better in drywall.

Molly bolts and toggle bolts are even stronger. The molly bolt is put into the hole and, when the screw is installed, it spreads out behind the drywall to hold the screw more securely. The toggle bolt works in a similar way but usually requires a larger hole, which you might have if you've tried some of these other options and failed by this point.

If you go to your hardware store or home center in search of these options, you're in for a treat. There are always new gadgets made for this purpose, and some are really clever. Check them out. Try some of them. In the future, when hanging things on your walls, take the time to locate the wooden studs behind the drywall. Use these to anchor your hangings more permanently so no repairs will need to be made later on down the line.

Measuring up

How many times have you found yourself needing to measure something and not having a tape measure or ruler around? Don't trust your guesstimate. If you have a dollar or some change in your pocket, you can take care of the problem. The dollar bill is about 6 inches long. A quarter is 1 inch wide. While this might not be sufficient for ordering a new window, it will at least get you some basic measurements to work with. You also can cut a piece of string or twine to the length of a particular item and then use that as your measuring tool when you go to the store or find yourself without that tape measure.

Longer shelf life

Shelves that are adjustable are good because they give you some options as far as where the shelves will be placed. In many cases, though, they are not as stable as fixed shelves. One way to improve the stability of adjustable shelves is to cut a kerf, or channel, into the shelf bottom so that it will slip over the shelf bracket. This adds quite a bit of extra stability to the shelf and is super easy to do.

Super hints

• It can be hard to locate small air leaks around walls, windows, doors and other areas. Light a stick of incense and hold it up to the areas to see if the smoke moves. This will tell you where you need to seal any leaks.

• We take care of the birds in our yard during the winter, and they take care of us all year round by eating bugs that bother us and our garden. We take the pine cones that we find in and around our yard, spread peanut butter on them and press birdseed into the surfaces. Then we hang them in the trees, put them on the fence and set them in planters. The birds love them, and it's a pretty healthy snack for them when other food sources are harder to find. Don't forget a little warm water on those days when other water sources are frozen.

• Any carbonated drink can be used to remove corrosion from a car battery. When in a bind, just pour a little on the buildup and watch it melt away. You'll want to clean the area and add some protection once you have time, but the soda works well when you are in a hurry.

Q. Along the side of our house, the siding is made of shingles. They look OK but are starting to stain the foundation below this wall a dark color. Is there any way to clean off these stains?

A. It's hard to tell what the stains might be. TSP, trisodium phosphate, is a great cleaner for a lot of surfaces like this. Just take precautions and follow the package directions. Most of the stains should come off. If the stains are mildew, use a water seal on both surfaces to prevent more moisture damage.

Q. Our bathtub is in good shape, for the most part, but has some stains on the bottom of it caused by a tub mat. Is there any way to remove these stains?

A. Try making a paste of cream of tartar mixed with hydrogen peroxide. Put the paste over the stains and give it a few hours to work. Hopefully, the stains will be removed when you check on them. If not, you can repeat the process. Good luck!

Q. I am so tired of getting clogs in spray-paint cans. It seems like you can only use the paint the first time and then the tip clogs, and even though there is still a lot of paint in the can, you can't spray any more out. What is the best way to unclog these spray tips?

A. Remove the tip from the paint can and soak it in warm, soapy water or solvent, depending upon the type of paint in the can. One little trick we like is to put the clogged tip on a can of spray lubricant and spray this through the tip. It usually will unclog and clean the tip for your next use with paint.

Reader tips

• I found out something cool that you'll love. If you have a roll of tape that's drying out and doesn't stick very well anymore, you can revitalize it in your microwave. Just 30 seconds or so will heat up the adhesive and make it sticky again. Of course, you can't put in aluminum tape or any other kind of metal tape. It works pretty well and doesn't seem to cause any residual problems.

• The wife and I are on an exercise kick. We bought bikes and ride them around the neighborhood to keep in shape. We found some heavy-duty hooks at the home center and installed them from the garage rafters. They hold the bikes up high, out of the way of our cars, so we don't run over them or into them in our garage. If you haven't tried storing the bikes this way, it's great, and inexpensive, too.

• Here's my crazy but helpful way to vacuum the leaves off my pool cover. I like the pool cover because it keeps the leaves out of my pool during the winter, but leaves collect on top of it and make a mess there instead. I taped a section of PVC pipe to my shop vacuum and can push the extension out over the pool cover to vacuum up the leaves that are too far out there to reach by hand. It will reach all the way to the center of the cover, and it keeps things under control during the winter.

• My son has a white kitchen sink that is heavily stained. I wanted to try to clean it before we had to replace it, so we tried a couple of things. The best solution was to put an old towel on the bottom of the sink and saturate it with laundry bleach. Then we let it soak into the stains overnight. When we removed the towel, most of the stains were gone. There still are a couple of discolored spots, but it's nothing that he can't live with for a while longer.

• I always have been bad about keeping up with paperwork, but I'm learning a new way. I have a scanner that is very handy. I scan receipts, instructions and other information, and keep it filed on my computer. Now I no longer have to keep up with a file cabinet full of papers. I also download instructions and manuals for tools and appliances rather than keep them or scan them. It's so much easier when it's all in one safe place.


• Paints are being improved all the time, and the latest and greatest to come out from Krylon is called "Dual" -- paint and primer in one. This spray paint features the EA Tough 360-Degree Dial Spray Tip, comes in more than 20 colors, is made for outdoor use and is available in gloss, satin and flat finishes. It just doesn't get much easier or quicker to use than this, and it will save you tons of time and effort on those repairs and projects on your to-do list. You can find it at most paint stores, home centers and hardware dealers. For more info, visit

• We all know that two-part epoxies are super adhesives. Loctite makes a Repair Putty that incorporates the resin and hardener into a puttylike material that, when kneaded together, can be applied to a wide variety of materials to make a super-tough, waterproof, sandable and paintable bond. It works on metal, wood, glass, ceramic, fiberglass, china, stone and many rigid plastics. Keep some on hand for those little emergencies. It's available at most hardware stores and home centers. See more at

• 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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