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Article posted: 3/23/2012 5:34 AM

Super handyman: Tips for stripping furniture

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A bad finish can make a beautiful project look awful. Sometimes you need to strip the old finish off a treasured piece to expose its inner beauty. We have some tips about stripping furniture to help you do the job right and with as little mess as possible.

Before working on older painted surfaces, test for lead so that you know what you are dealing with. Lead test kits are available at home centers and paint stores.

Also keep in mind that older pieces of furniture are more delicate, and the wood and hardware can be easily damaged, so make sure to be careful, especially if you have antiques. Don't take away the value -- add to it.

Today we have gentle strippers made with orange oil, and they are safer to use and actually do a pretty good job of removing layers of thick paint. If you need to use the heavy-duty strippers, be cautious and wear eye protection and gloves.

Set your project on a dropcloth. If it's small, set the piece on a dropcloth on top of a table or stand of some kind. It will be easier on your back.

Always make sure you have a dust-free room and plenty of light.

For getting all of the paint out of cracks and crevices, use tools like an ice pick, awl, toothpicks, wire, dental floss, an emery board, Q-tips or anything else you need to get the job done.

Make sure, when you have finished stripping the wood, that you thoroughly clean the surfaces with mineral-spirits paint thinner to remove any residue left behind. A light sanding will take away any wood grain that was raised in the stripping process. Apply a finish as soon as the surface is dry so that airborne grease won't have a chance to seal any of the pores.

Old cheese shaker makes a great cleanser container

We recommend cleaning surfaces with trisodium phosphate before painting, and to clean up a lot of other messes around the house. It's a strong, powdered cleanser that works on a wide variety of stains and spots. If you pour some into an empty grated-cheese dispenser, it will be much easier to use. You will be able to shake out the amount you need to mix into your water. Use it to wash walls and dissolve grease. It also works well on mildew. The shaker makes it much easier to use and store in your workshop. Being able to close the lid also helps to keep it from clumping in storage. MAKE SURE TO RELABEL THE CAN!

Sandpaper helps you keep your grip when using a miter box

A miter box can help you cut molding to class up your joint. With a plain box saw and a miter box, you can cut those angles that you'll need to get the perfect fit with shoe molding, crown molding and any other types of trim. The miter box has openings that help you get perfect angle cuts every time. One little tip you can borrow from us is to line the box with a sheet of sandpaper. This keeps the molding from slipping and sliding while you are cutting it. It's a simple thing to do, and it really helps a lot.

Super hints

Add more lighting to your home. Different lighting makes a huge difference in the way you see your home and the way others see it, too. As we age, we need more light. Small task lighting is vital when working on projects.

Love your old T-shirts but can't fit into them any longer? Make a quilt out of them. Just cut them into squares and sew them together with batting and a backing. You also can turn them into pillows, one shirt on each side. This way, they will always be with you, and you'll get to enjoy them a lot more.

If the tile you fell in love with is outrageously expensive, then use it in key areas only. Choose the backsplash area behind your stovetop, or just the shower in your bathroom. Do the rest of the walls with paint or plain tiles, and your favorites will make even more of a statement.

Q. I know that my toilet is leaking from the tank into the bowl, but I can't see where the problem is; I can hear it. I have replaced the flapper several times, but I still hear the leak. Where is the leak?

A. Make sure the water level isn't higher than the overflow tube in the tank. The only other place it could be leaking is at the gasket that is located between the tank and the toilet bowl. This requires the tank to be removed and the gasket replaced. It's not hard to do if you have some muscle to help. Good luck!

Q. My old kitchen cabinets need to be painted. I don't know if they need to be stripped first. What do you recommend?

A. Start with wiping down the cabinets with mineral spirits paint thinner to remove all grease and grime. If the current surface is sound, just paint right over it. If it is not, prime it first and then paint it. Primer will never harm your finish, but will always make it look better and help it last longer. Use a gloss or semi-gloss finish for easier cleaning.

Q. I accidentally dropped my pliers when I was changing out the shower head in our bathtub. Now I have a chip in the side of the tub. What can I do to fix it?

A. See if you can locate the maker of the tub, and then go to your hardware store or home center. It will have repair kits to fix it. Since there are so many color choices available, you'll need to know your tub's maker to get a perfect match. You would be surprised how many different shades of white there are! It's fairly easy to repair, and should last for quite a while.

Reader tips

We found out that our water-supply line, running through the basement ceiling, has a problem. It moves and makes a squeaking noise throughout the day. It's not very much of a problem, but it does get annoying at night. We found that we could drill a small hole into the ceiling and squirt some expanding foam insulation into the area to fill in around the pipe. It sure has quieted the squeaky noises. I may have to do this in one other area of the ceiling, but most of the noise is under control now.

We have a new alarm system in our home, and we now have a stronger sense of security. We donated the old battery-operated smoke detectors to our local Goodwill store but kept one to put in our garage. We felt like we needed to have one there for some extra protection, since I have a small workshop out there. We mounted it on the wall near the ceiling. It hasn't gone off accidentally, like we thought it might. Hopefully it will protect our home from fires or smoke in our garage.

I have several different blades for my circular saw. Different materials require different blades for a clean cut. I store them all in one place, though, and keep them separated by pieces of cardboard. The cardboard is cut larger than the blades so that the edges of the blades are protected. I store them all in a box so I can go through them to find the one I need for my project.

I used to carry a clothes rod in my car to hang clothes on when I am on the road. On my last trip, the rod broke and I had to replace it, but I couldn't find one where I was traveling. I did, however, find a length of plastic chain on sale, and I hooked it from one side of the back seat to the other in my car. This actually works better than the old rod, because the hangers can be placed into the links of the chain so they don't slide back and forth as I'm driving. Plus, I can take the chain down, with my clothes still attached, and move it inside to put them away in my closet.

Our guest bathroom has a plain glass shower/tub door that slides open and closed. It's ugly, but I don't want to try to remove it. I installed a shower-curtain rod and made a nice shower curtain. It matches the towels and bathmat, and gives the whole room a classier look. The door is still there behind the curtain, but you can't see it. The room looks much better now.

Shoptalk

For summer furniture, you can't beat PVC plastic pipe. It's lightweight, inexpensive, easy to work with and weather-resistant. You can build just about any piece of furniture once you have learned the basics. We have put together a sheet detailing the basics of working with this plastic pipe. Another good summer project might be a wooden picnic table. We've also got plans for a very simple, long-lasting family picnic table made from wood. This table is a one-piece design that is both safe and convenient.

BendaBoard Synthetic Edging is the perfect solution for landscaping and flower beds. It's super flexible and very easy to install. It looks and cuts just like real wood but won't rot, warp, split or crack, and it comes in 20-foot lengths and several widths. What makes it so neat is that it's made of recycled plastic bottles. It's available at a variety of dealers, but you can find out more at www.epicplastics.com.

Using steel posts for a wood fence makes sense but may not be very attractive. PostMaster is a steel post that can easily be covered by wood so that it won't show. You get the strength of steel and the beauty of natural wood. It's easy to install and has a heavy galvanized coating to withstand rust. It's made to take high winds, and it carries a 15-year limited warranty. Check it out and find a dealer at www.masterhalco.com.

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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