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updated: 3/15/2012 12:56 PM

The superhandyman: Put some power into your spring cleaning

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The one thing many of us don't like about spring is the spring cleaning. But if cleaning is your thing, you might like to try using a power washer. They can be a lot of fun, and they work great.

There are a lot of different models of power washers to choose from. If you've never used one, you may want to start small -- borrow or rent one.

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Most need to be hooked up to a water supply with a garden hose. Make sure you have a screen filter somewhere between the outside faucet and the pump. This will prevent clogs.

Power washers also have a spray arm or wand, which can be fit with different tips for different spray patterns. You might have to test a few until you find the one that works best for your cleaning project.

You'll want to adjust the spray pressure down, in most cases. Avoid areas that can be damaged by the high pressure if you cannot dial it down enough.

Pressure washers also usually have a place to install detergents and other cleaning agents. Make sure you use only the washing materials recommended for use in a pressure washer. Many household cleaners can cause significant damage to power washers.

With a good power washer, you can tackle a dirty driveway or sidewalk, a deck, brick siding, wood or vinyl siding, a weathered fence, even dirty windows, with extra-careful operation. You can make a big dent in your spring cleaning list. Just don't tell anyone that you're really having fun at the same time!

Screwdriver storage

An organized workbench is a productive work area. It just makes sense that when you can easily find the tools you need to get the job done, the job will get done faster. A piece of perforated angle iron makes a super storage rack for a whole set of screwdrivers. Because of the holes that run all the way down the piece of metal, it's easy to mount it on a pegboard wall or right on the side of your workbench. You also can store pliers, chisels, wrenches and a few other tools on these racks. You wouldn't even have to buy a piece of angle iron if you have a scrap lying around.

You know the drill

A drill isn't much good without a good set of assorted bits. Some drills come with a nice set of bits, but others don't. One super way to combine your drill and its bits is to attach the box of bits right to the drill case. This can be as easy as gluing the boxes together. Use a little epoxy to glue the drill-bit storage box to the front cover of the box where you keep your drill stored. It's so simple, and keeps your drill bits right where you need them.

Super hints

• Long screws work better than nails to seal up tubes of caulk. The nails can be hard to pull out, but the screws can easily be turned and removed.

• Bookends are good at keeping books upright on a shelf. But you also can use them to decorate the bookshelves. I like to keep my bookshelves organized by topic and then use a bookend that relates to each topic. For example, my building books have a brick for a bookend. The pet books have a dog statue holding them up, and my gardening books have a small potted plant to hold them in place. Get creative when organizing.

•Rechargeable batteries are pretty expensive, so you should take good care of them, as well as the tools they work with. Place battery chargers in your home away from excessive heat or cold so they will work better and last longer.

Q. My mother said we should paint our porch ceiling blue to keep wasps away. Have you ever heard of this?

A. Actually, yes. The blue color is called "Haint," and it's a Southern tradition. The blue is supposed to keep wasps from making nests on your porch ceiling. We don't know if it works, but a lot of people do it, and have for years. If you try it, let us know if it works for you.

Q. The ceiling fan I have in my kitchen says to use only 40-watt light bulbs, but this doesn't give me enough light, and I would like to use a brighter bulb if possible. Is it OK to use 60-watt bulbs?

A. If a lamp is rated only for 60-watt, or 40-watt, bulbs, that's the brightest bulb you can use in it. However, you can use CFLs, and these will give off a lot more light for less power. If that doesn't work for you, you may want to switch to a different light fixture.

Q. I don't think my thermostat is working anymore. It says 72 degrees, no matter how cold it feels in our home. It will turn the heat off and on, but it just doesn't seem to register the actual temperature of the room. Is there any way to fix it, or should I just replace it?

A. If you wanted to test the accuracy, you could place another thermometer near this one and let it adjust for an hour or so. Then you would know how far off it is. But it sounds like it probably needs to be replaced. Even the digital thermometers available today don't cost very much, and they are fairly easy to install. A good setback thermostat probably will save you money in the long run, and you'll love the convenience these offer. Check them out at your hardware store or home center.

Reader tips

• I know I should have put my hoses in the garage during the winter, but I thought they would be OK. They weren't. I had to mend a few holes. I bought some mending kits. I've used them before. They work pretty well, and can help a damaged hose last another year or two. I have a tip for you: Set the hoses in a bucket of hot water for a few minutes before doing the patches. The hot water makes them more pliable, and they slide into the mending sleeves much more easily.

• "Old Faithful," my old retractable metal ruler, was damaged on my last project. I accidentally drove over it with my truck, and I was mad because I'd had it for a long time. Oh well, I needed to buy a new one anyway. But instead of throwing away my old metal ruler, I used it in my workshop. I drilled holes and tacked it to my workbench along the front edge. Now I have a built-in ruler right where I need it -- on the front of my workbench! I still had to replace the tape, but I needed a new one anyway.

• My wife was the last one in the paint can, and when she was finished with it, she put some plastic wrap over the paint and then closed the lid so that the plastic was between the rim and the can. I told her she was nuts and that it wouldn't work for sealing the can, but when I reopened it to do some touch-ups, the plastic wrap had sealed the paint can really well, and the paint was smooth and free of lumps. I have to give her the credit for this idea. It's one of the easiest and best ways to seal a can of paint that I've ever tried.

• In our part of the country, we are in a drought. That has meant that we have had to water our yard sparingly when we can. We have an automatic sprinkler system but can use it only every other week. We have purchased soaker hoses and have used them more often than the sprinklers. The soaker hoses waste no water and do a good job of getting water on the yard. It's a way to deal with a drought that might not end anytime soon.

• 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 thesuperhandyman.com.

2012, Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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