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posted: 6/22/2012 5:51 AM

Super handyman: Here's how to create your own mosaic

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Mosaics have been around for thousands of years. They are both beautiful and fun to make. Here's how to create one of your own.

The first thing you'll need is a surface to mosaic. This can be a plain table top, a concrete birdbath or just about anything else that is sturdy and won't bend or flex. Start with a small project your first time, and then you can move on to a larger, more ambitious one if you like it.

The next thing you'll need are materials. You can use tiles, glass, china, ceramics or other sturdy materials -- even metal. Use them as is, or break them into smaller pieces. Try to use things that have a relatively flat back surface for easier gluing.

Adhesive also is a must. You can use a tile adhesive from a tube or use a thin mortar mix or "thin-set."

You'll probably want to lay out your design without the adhesive first. Then you can go back and glue it into place. Be careful not to slop the glue up over the surface of the "tile." Give it plenty of time to set up.

The next step is to grout between the tiles. You can use a pre-mixed grout or mix your own. There are lots of colors to choose from. Sanded grout is best for wide joints, more than 1/4 inch, but plain grout is the choice for smaller gaps. Smooth it into every joint and then go over the top with a damp sponge. You might want to let it start drying a little before wiping it with the sponge just so you don't wipe off too much. Never let the grout dry on the surface of the tiles or other mosaic materials.

You can apply a grout sealer if your project will be left outdoors or in an area that will be in contact with a lot of moisture.

We bet you'll get hooked on this craft and you'll want to try another one before the summer's over!

Don't pitch that old, rusty rake -- turn it into a tool caddy

Organizing garden tools doesn't have to cost a lot of money. When my old metal rake's handle broke, I fully intended to get a replacement handle and install it before the end of summer ... last summer. Oh well. This spring, I decided to turn the rake into an organizer for my other garden tools. I attached it to the wall on the outside of my shed. I then hung all of my hand tools on the tines of the rake. I added leather and rope to the ones that didn't have hangers already in place. The rusty rake and all of the assorted garden tools look more like decoration than tools, but they are right there when I need them and are ready to use.

Need a measuring cup for the shop? Make one out of a bucket!

When cooking in the kitchen, we have measuring cups to use when preparing recipes. But in the shop, we could use a measuring cup, too. We made one out of a plain bucket. By pouring a cup of water into the bucket, we used a permanent marker to note the line on the side of the bucket, and labeled it as 1 cup. Then we did the same with other known measurements so we could have our own shop-size measuring cup. Now we can do some cooking in the shop, too!

Super hints

• We talk a lot about recycling containers for other uses in the shop and home. But don't forget to take the time required to RELABEL those containers. It might seem obvious to you that the old peanut-butter jar is now filled with paint, but if the wrong person got hold of these containers, you could be in trouble. Be safe, not sorry!

• Here's a trick I just HAD to try. My old patio roof is made of wood, with a plastic corrugated roof over the top to keep out the rain. One piece had torn, and I was not looking forward to taking it off to replace it. I bought a fiberglass repair kit at the boat store and used that to glue it back together. So far, it's holding well, and it looks like I can go another year before having to replace it. The kits do come in colors, so you can match what you have. It was pretty easy to use, too.

• Are you the official griller in the family? Take note: Save a wad of aluminum foil to use as a scrubber after cooking. Before the grill has had a chance to cool completely, grab your foil ball and scrape the grease off the grill. The foil does a super job, and you can toss it in the garbage when you've finished using it.

Q. I am having a lot of trouble picking out a paint color for my front door. The door is a dark stain now, and I've tried a couple of paint colors over it. They look very different than they do in the paint store. Can you give me some advice?

A. The first thing you will need to do is lightly sand your front door and prime it with an exterior primer. Then you can pick out a couple of colors that you like and buy small containers of each to test them. Let them dry, and look at them over several days in different lighting conditions before you decide. It's worth the cost and time involved to get it just right. If your door is in direct sunlight, make sure you get a paint with UV protection so it will last longer.

Q. When the kids were younger, we put some vinyl ducks on the bathtub floor to prevent slipping. They look pretty sorry now, and I would like to see about getting them off and replacing them with something better-looking. How do we peel them off?

A. We've been able to get these stickers off with WD-40 in the past. It takes a little time and several applications, but they do eventually come off. Be careful not to scratch the tub's surface. If that doesn't work for you, you can actually buy sticker remover at some hardware stores, and it works pretty well, too.

Q. We have hard water in our area of the country. It has caused a lot of problems around our home, the buildup causing damage to our appliances, and several of our neighbors have installed water softeners. We are trying to decide if we should do the same. What are your thoughts?

A. We suggest talking to your water utility supplier. They have stats on your water supply and on the use of water softeners. It's really a judgment call. You might ask some of your neighbors if they are truly happy with their results. Some people love them, while others actually don't. Also consider the time and money involved in maintaining a water softener.

Reader tips

• We have a compost pile, or actually two -- one that is about three months further along than the other. I have found a super additive: my old newspapers. I put them through the shredder first and then straight into the pile. They break down quickly this way, and really add a lot to the mix. My garden is always the best on the block, and I feel like the newspapers have a lot to do with it.

• A while back you printed a letter from a reader who had used doorknobs, mounted on the wall, to hold hats and coats. I loved the idea but added another couple of items to my front hallway. I installed some drawer pulls on the wall just above the table. I use these pulls to hold hooks for my keys, mail and other smaller items. They look just great with the doorknobs.

• I love to paint, and have taken some of my vacation days to work on the exterior of our home. The prep work is the hardest, but I'm past that now. I try to be neat and not drip or go over the lines, but I have a rubber band around my paint can under which I slip a rag for the cleanup of the accidents I do make. This way, I can clean up as I go and save time later. I'm sure by the time I get finished, I will be ready to get back to work again!

• Our pool is our favorite area for entertaining. We decided to give it a makeover last weekend, so we gathered up all the furniture and painted it the same color. Then we used the leftover paint to do several of the plain clay pots and planters around the deck area. We still had some left over, so we painted a couple of the lanterns, a bench and two birdhouses. Now it all matches, and it was fun for the whole family to participate in. Even our 2-year-old got to paint a birdhouse!

• I'm using an old hand-me-down crib for my new son. It's beautiful, and is a cherished family heirloom. I have, however, modified it just a little. I installed two screen-door hooks on the back side near the bottom of the side rails. These hook onto two eye hooks that I installed on the nursery wall. This keeps the crib from rocking. It's not a problem now, but I remember how my older son was when he started moving around in the bed. This will keep it from tipping over.


• Summer is a great time of year, but in many parts of the country, it also is humid, and this can bring on mildew problems. Mildew not only is smelly and ugly, it also can ruin walls, carpeting and just about any surface it gets on, not to mention the health risks to your family. Learn how to rid your home of this problem once and for all. We've put together a pamphlet called "Mildew Around Your House," and it is full of tips on how to get rid of mildew and how to keep it from coming back.

• The PlungeMax No Mess Plunger is one of the most innovative toilet-unclogging devices we've run across in years. The design is basically a large bellows, which displaces 25 times its size, that fits over the rim and down into the bowl. You push the toilet lid down, and this forces the clog down the drain. It is strong vinyl material, eliminates the need for a plunger altogether and means you don't have to touch water at all. No chemicals are used, and it folds neatly to store nearby. It's a totally green, germ-free way to clear toilet clogs. Check it out at or call (877) 265-9777.

• If you have a glass surface that you wish was frosted, now you can get it with the spray-on Frosted Glass Finish from Krylon. You don't need to use any messy or caustic creams or chemicals. The semitransparent finish is simply sprayed on, like any other paint. It dries quickly and creates a permanent frosted finish for any glass surface. To find out more and get some great project ideas, visit the company's website at Krylon spray paints are available at paint stores, home centers, hardware stores and craft stores.

• 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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