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posted: 5/18/2012 5:47 AM

Super handyman: Don't trust your eyes only; use a level on your projects

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Have you ever finished a project and noticed that one side is crooked, not true or not even? It doesn't matter how great the paint job is if the trim is not straight.

Whatever project or repair work you take on is going to turn out better if you use a level, plumb or laser to make sure it's straight and even before you finish. Here are some tips to get a perfect result from your hard work.

A standard bubble level is a must for all do-it-yourselfers. A small one to fit in your toolbox is great, and an extra-long one also is very handy. You can turn a small level into a longer one by just attaching the smaller level to a straight board. You have to make sure the board is straight, but this will work just as well as the real thing.

If you don't have a level, you sometimes can get away with using a bowl of water. Just set the bowl down and see if the water is level in the bowl. It's not foolproof, but it sure can reveal a boo-boo before the glue dries!

Most longer levels have a few options in that you can use them both horizontally and vertically to get projects like posts perfectly straight, or "plumb."

The old plumb bob also can be used. It's simply a string with a pointed weight on the bottom. You hold it next to the wall or post, and you can see if the string hangs straight next to it.

A string level also is a handy tool and is mostly used for outdoor projects. It's a small level that has hooks on the ends and is secured to a string line to check the level of larger areas like decks and flower beds.

Laser levels are super handy, and can be used in a variety of projects. The cost has come down on them significantly, and they are a lot easier to use now. One drawback that we still find is the fact that they can be hard to see when used outdoors. We use them but have the best success indoors.

A hose level is another way of setting the level on a large project. The hose should be longer than the length you are testing, and any hose will do. You fill the hose with water, stretch it out the length of the area, holding the ends up, and check the water level at each end to determine the exact level of the area. The water inside the hose will come up to the same level on both ends.

Don't trust your eyes -- use a level and get it right the first time. You'll sure see it if it's wrong!

Hide your hose

Have you priced "hose holders" lately? The ones that look like a planter and hold a coiled-up garden hose caught our eye, until we saw the price. Well, why not just use a real flowerpot? Find a nice-looking one that will hold an entire hose. Make sure it has a large hole in the bottom to run the hose end through. The end that comes out the bottom of the pot gets hooked up to the faucet. The rest gets coiled up in the pot and is ready to go when you need it. Just as handy, and less expensive!

Holy tool storage!

Tool belts are great for holding lots of tools when you're working, especially when working on a ladder. But sometimes a heavy tool belt can slow you down, or you just don't need all those tools to handle a simple job. We had a plain, ordinary ladder and took it to new heights by drilling a few holes in the top step, which isn't really a step. These holes are large enough to stab a screwdriver down into or to set your pliers in. These assorted holes are really handy for holding your tools, and they relieve you of the bulk of a heavy tool belt when working up on a ladder. The tools also stay put if you have to climb down and move the ladder a little.

Super hints

• To get the caked-on grease off your barbecue grill, soak newspaper in water and wrap the grate in it until it's had time to soften up the old stuff. Then you can easily scrape it off and do a final cleanup with soap and water.

• I have several "rusty" yard ornaments. I love to shop for these items at antiques stores and flea markets. I bring them home and coat them with clear polyurethane. This seals the finish so I can keep the rust but prevent it from rubbing off on my hands, clothes or the porch. You have to recoat it every year with more polyurethane, but it does work to seal in the desired patina.

• If you have done some work on your walls and added new, thicker drywall, paneling, tile or other layers that extend past the original switchplates and electrical outlets, install extensions made for these boxes to keep them within safety guidelines.

Q. Some of my double-pane windows are starting to fog. I wondered if there is a way to fix this, or do I have to replace the windows? What would you do?

A. The seal on these windows, between the panes of glass, most likely has failed. That means you are no longer getting the insulation you originally had with these windows, not to mention the odd look this gives them. You can replace just the glass panes, in most cases. This is a whole lot less expensive than replacing the entire window. Do a little checking around and see if you can find a window-repair company that can do that.

Q. I'm starting to wonder if I might have a major problem in my home. There is a gap that periodically opens and closes between the ceiling and the outer wall of the house. I've caulked it, spackled it and painted it, and it always opens back up. What should I try next?

A. That kind of movement does indicate a possible foundation problem. We suggest having a couple of reputable foundation companies come out and do some testing to see if you need repair work done. You'll still have to make the repairs to the wall and ceiling, but if you have the foundation work done, it might be the last time you need to do it.

Q. We have an enclosed patio out back that we would like to carpet before next winter. Is it OK to put the carpet directly on the concrete? Is there anything we need to do to it first?

A. As long as the concrete doesn't emit moisture from the ground underneath it, you're OK. It might be smart to apply a masonry sealer to prevent absorption of any water that might get spilled on the carpet. A thin layer of padding will make it more comfortable but is not required. We hope you enjoy it next fall!

Reader tips

• We would love to have new countertops but will have to wait a little longer to be able to afford them. After years of use, our old countertops get stained a lot easier than they used to. My wife fixes up her "special stain buster" to use, and it works pretty well. It's baking soda and bleach, and she places it over the stains and lets it set for a few hours. It really does a good job. She's used it on other surfaces, too, but it doesn't work as well as it does on those countertops.

• I'm the only one who could get our patio door open. It was old and stubborn. I took a closer look at it last week and discovered the track was a little bent and really dirty. I got a block of wood and my hammer, and straightened it out a little. The door was still dragging, so I got out a toothbrush and started scrubbing the track clean. Then I used some grease to lubricate it. Now it glides smoothly. Even my kids can use it, and it seems like a new door.

• We had to go over some of the places where we painted our house trim last fall. I guess we hurried through the prep and skipped a couple of mildew spots on the trim. The paint job looked good for a while, but then the mildew started to show up in the same spots as before. The guy at the hardware store told us that it will do this if you don't get rid of every trace of it. So we scraped, sanded, primed and repainted the trim on the north side of the house. Lesson learned!

• We have to refill or replace our propane tank for the grill about once a month. I know it seems excessive, but we use it quite a lot. I found that I can carry it much more easily in an old plastic egg crate. The crate has handles on it that are easier to hang on to. It also sits better in the back of my truck and doesn't fall over like it used to. The crate was just taking up space anyway. Maybe you can try this and use it in your column.• I wondered what to do with the old hardware we had left over after we renovated our kitchen. Most of it was old and not a popular style, so I didn't figure I could give it away. I ended up mounting most of it in the garage, and use it to hang tools and hardware on. I used the knobs as well as the drawer pulls.


• Rust-Oleum LeakSeal Flexible Rubber Coating spray stops leaks in gutters, downspouts, PVC pipe, air conditioner drip pans, metal buildings, flashing, shingles, concrete foundations and more. It effectively seals leaks and small cracks, and provides a flexible, watertight seal against moisture, rust and corrosion. It works quickly and stays put for a long time. To find out more, talk to your paint dealer or check

• It's been a long time since we've seen a lot of innovation in ceiling fans. The Haiku fan has a sleek style, quiet motor that delivers an 80 percent improvement in efficiency over conventional fan motors and even uses bamboo, a renewable resource, for its blades. It comes in several styles and colors. To find out more, call 855-MY-HAIKU (694-2458), or visit

• 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

2012, Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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