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posted: 10/25/2012 4:18 PM

Before putting away the mower for the winter, get it in shape for spring

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Before storing your lawn mower for the season, try some of our favorite tuneup tips. It will not take much time or money to do, and your mower will be ready to go when you break it out next spring.

• Run it until the gas is all gone. You can do this on your last mowing weekend!

• Clean it up. Wipe and scrape off all of the grass and other debris that collects on top of and underneath the mower. Remove the spark plug(s) before going under the mower deck!

• Scrape off any loose or peeling paint and apply zinc primer and Rust-o-leum exterior enamel to bare metal surfaces. Use spray paint for the fastest results.

• Use WD-40 on all moving parts, joints and bolts. This will keep them moving and rust-free.

• Remove the air filter and clean it. Foam filters can be cleaned with soapy water and set in the sun to dry. Paper filters can be cleaned with a paintbrush. Both should be replaced if damaged or badly worn.

• Remove the old cutting blade. If you are going to have it sharpened, cover the new edge with plenty of grease so it won't rust during the winter. A new blade is a wonderful thing, and is healthy for your grass.

• Drain oil by pumping it out or through the drain plug, which newer mowers have. Refill the mower with fresh, clean oil, as specified in your owner's manual. If you don't have a manual, you probably can get one for free at the manufacturer's website.

• Replace the old spark plug with a new one. You should do this every year. Your mower will burn fuel cleaner and will run smoother.

• Order any replacement parts you need during the winter so you can install them in the off-season. Start with fresh gas in the spring, too!

Customize your old entertainment center for your new TV

The new, thinner televisions are really great, and they fit into most rooms so much better than the older, boxy models that we grew up with. But if you have an older entertainment center and you don't want to get rid of it, why not just make it thinner? Depending upon the type of entertainment center you have, it might be possible to cut it in half and make it fit into your room better. Use a saw to cut off the back half of the cabinet, including the shelves and cabinets. If done smoothly, you'll have a thinner entertainment center that's just perfect for your new, thinner TV.

Wainscoting made so easy it's scary!

Molding in a home is like the icing on a cake. But it can be costly and a bit intimidating if you have never done it before. One way to get a super-looking wainscoting in your home is so simple, it's scary. Just buy several inexpensive wood frames, painted the same color as the wall or just white, and attach them to the bottom half of the wall all the way around a room. If you space them out and position them properly, it's going to look super, and you don't have to ever tell anyone how easy it was to do!

Super hints

• Customize switchplates and electrical outlets with matching wall paint, and make them disappear. Primer will help the paint stick to the plastic. Just remove them, prime and paint, then replace.

• If you have old doorknobs, turn them into a hat and/or coat rack. Use original hardware or dowels attached to wood scraps to mount the doorknobs in your entryway or mud room, and fill them up with your cold-weather items. Small knobs can hold keys.

• If you hate to scrub toilets, like we do, try this easy method. Just drop two denture-cleaning tablets into the toilet bowl and let them do the work for you all night long. In the morning, give it a flush, and see the stains just wash right down the drain!

Q: I have had a foundation problem that was repaired and left me with some cracked mortar and bricks on the outside of the house. What's the best way to fix these? -- L.P.

A: Use mortar repair in a caulking tube to repair the mortar joints. You can use the same thing to fix your bricks, but go back over them with some craft paint to match the bricks and hide the caulk. You don't have to do this, but it will look a lot better, and it won't take very long to do.

Q: I am smelling a strong smoky smell coming from our fireplace. We've never had any problem with it and use it a couple of times every winter. What should we check to make sure there's not a problem? -- K.J.

A: You really ought to have your chimney swept. A good chimney sweep will clean and inspect your chimney for damage, and this could prevent a household fire. If you want to try to do the job yourself, check for flue-cleaning supplies at your fireplace store. Make sure to check your pipe and mortar joints, and use fireproof materials for any repairs.

Q: I have metal outdoor landscape lamps. They still work fine, but the original finish is peeling off to the bare metal. Is there a particular type of paint I should use to repaint them? -- B.R.

A: Sand off all of the damaged paint, and use a metal primer and paint made for exterior metal surfaces. This is a very easy project, so do them all, whether they need it or not, so they will match. It's also a great way to change the look of your existing landscape lights. Turn those plain, old, black lamps to copper or bronze, and give your yard a quick, inexpensive facelift.

Reader tips

• My wife asked me to clean the cooktop in our kitchen. It's a gas range and had a lot of built-up grease and grime on it. It needed some extra detailing, so I took a stab at it. While cleaning, I found that the center hub, where the gas outlets are, was clogged. I used a wire paper clip, unfolded, to remove the debris from all of the ports. Then I used a toothbrush to clean the outside of it. She tells me that the range is like a new one and that the gas and flame are so much better now. It really does look great, and I'm glad to have done it before the holidays. (My wife is a super cook!)

• I'm spending a lot more time in the garden these days. I really enjoy it, and have had a couple of very successful vegetable gardens in the past couple of years. I made a nice waterproof apron from an extra nail pouch that I had in the shop. I just sprayed it with Scotchgard, and now it's waterproof and perfect for gardening.

• I like simple, ready-to-assemble shelves. They are easy to put together, and most are fairly inexpensive. The only complaint I have is that most won't hold a lot of books without the shelves starting to bow. I add a small, 1-inch-by-1-inch scrap of wood to the back, just under each shelf, to add some extra support. If the back is made of cardboard, as some are, you still can attach the wood to the back, but you also should secure it to the sides of the unit. It's amazing how a little scrap of wood can make such a difference.

• When I was growing up, my father always put a brick in our toilet tank to displace some of the water so we would use less water. I still do this in my toilets today, even though most of ours use less water anyway. The difference is that I put my bricks in plastic bags. This keeps them from dissolving in the tank and causing problems eventually.

• I try to keep the heat set low in the winter so our bills won't be too high. I use the natural heat as much as I can. I open the drapes on sunny days and cook early in the day to warm up the house more quickly. Instead of keeping the oven closed when I'm finished cooking, I open it and let the heat out into the kitchen. I do the same with the dishwasher. Our water heater is in the hall closet, and I even leave that door open most of the time, too. Every little bit helps.


• A rotary hammer makes big projects a whole lot easier, but the latest model (RH850VC 1-7/8-inch SDS-max) from Bosch is a step above the rest. It brings vibration control with three different level settings. This means you can work longer than before and get the job done quicker. It also offers tool-free bit changes, automatic bit lock and built-in dust protection. The Vario-Lock mechanism rotates and locks into 12 different positions for more precise chiseling. It also has a variable-speed dial for drilling, and is built to last. You can find out more about the whole Bosch line at or by calling 877-BOSCH-99.

• If you thought silicone caulk was the best, you're wrong. DAP 3.0 Window, Door, Trim & Siding High Performance Sealant is paintable in only 30 minutes, is 100 percent waterproof and is water-resistant in 30 minutes, and it can seal up gaps and cracks on the exterior of your home in just 30 minutes, even when temperatures are below 20 F or above 120 F. It comes in white or crystal-clear, not foggy like regular "clear" caulks. It's shrink- and crack-proof, and is perfect for wood, metal, brick, glass, vinyl, aluminum, concrete, masonry, plaster, drywall, stucco and stone. Check it out 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

2012, Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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