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posted: 11/16/2012 4:06 AM

Super handyman: Help your fireplace make more of a statement

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Is your fireplace boring? It's probably the focal point of your room, and it should make a statement, in a good way. You can make some minor changes to a standard fireplace and change the look of the whole room. Here are some suggestions that might spark some ideas of your own!

Sometimes, just cleaning a surface can bring it back to life. Bricks can be scrubbed down with trisodium phosphate and a stiff brush.

You also might consider painting your bricks. It will take primer and several coats of paint, but if done right, it will last a long time and look great.

Consider painting the wall by the fireplace a bold color to make it really stand out.

If you don't have a mantle, add one. If your mantle is wimpy, add a larger one, perhaps made of stone or carved wood.

If you want to cover the wall, whether brick or drywall, consider stone of some type. Manufactured stone can be lightweight and easy to work with, and might be the perfect solution.

Sometimes the hearth area is all that needs to be changed. If you have standard brick or plain tile, go over it with glass tiles or even a mosaic. A little splash of color in a small area can make a big statement and could be a quick weekend project.

You even can change the old, boring metal surface to a new color or finish. You just need to make sure you use a paint made for high temperatures.

The brick firebox also can be painted with a high-temperature paint.

If you have gas logs and are looking for something a little different, consider switching them out to glass pieces, made just for the fireplace. These come in tons of different colors and really look spectacular.

Whatever you do, make sure it's safe and not a fire hazard!

With a little imagination, you can turn a dull fireplace into a sizzling-hot space!

How to straighten out picture frames that are getting loose

Picture frames are supposed to be square or rectangular. If they are not, then the art or photo will look crooked. But small frames can lose their original shape over time, because most are just glued or secured with small, lightweight hardware. If you find them less than perfect, just add a little more glue to the joint and then use a square clamp to straighten and hold the frame while the glue sets up. If you don't have a square clamp, just wrap the frame with heavy string to hold it in place, and then use a clamp to hold the string tight.

Here's how to give your doorknobs an updated look

If your home has old and dated doorknobs, you can give them a new finish for not very much money at all and not as much time as you might think. Those old brass doorknobs should be removed and sanded with a fine-grit sanding sponge (they are flexible and will be easier to use on round knobs). Then apply a metal primer and a metal paint finish. Brushed nickel is popular, as is oil-rubbed bronze. Use it on light fixtures, too.

Super hints

• If you are going to use a paint roller to do your walls, trim the edges back at an angle. This will still get the paint on the wall but will eliminate a lot of the cleanup as the roller gets paint on the wall trim.

• My friend painted stencils on the risers of our wooden deck. The pattern she used looks sort of like a tile mosaic, and the steps look amazing now. She used only three colors of exterior paint and the basic stencil, so it cost only a few dollars, but it looks like it cost a lot more. Great job, Theresa!

• Is your clothes dryer not doing its job like it used to? It's probably clogged with lint. Run a snake through your vent duct to clean it out. That should help!

Q: Our front door has a storm door over the front of it. The storm door is on separate hinges and has a device that keeps it from slamming shut. This device is working its way loose from the door frame. What's the best way to secure these screws again? I don't want it flying off in a heavy wind.

A: Use a longer screw that will reach the door jamb. This will prevent the special closer from coming loose, even in a very strong wind. You also might consider adding a chain to catch it if it does happen to flap open too far. Some already have safety guards in place.

Q. I'm sensitive to chemicals, and I want to be safe when painting. What should I look for in a paint?

A. If a paint says that it is nontoxic, it still may cause you problems until it has fully cured. Wear lung, eye and skin protection when applying it, or have someone else do it for you. Then check the label to make sure you stay clear of it until it has fully cured, which usually is longer than the time required for it to "dry to the touch." If you have any questions, talk to a qualified paint dealer or go straight to the manufacturer for specific information and safety warnings.

Q. I need to paint my aluminum patio cover. My neighbor told me I could save money by using vinegar to "prime" it before painting to help the paint stick better. Will this really work?

A. It can be used on some metal surfaces, but for something as large as a patio cover, we strongly suggest that you use a good metal primer. Make sure to remove any old peeling or cracked paint and prime the whole thing. Then use exterior paint made for metal surfaces. This way, you will get a long-lasting paint job. After you're finished, you'll be glad you did all this, because you probably won't want to do it again anytime soon!

Reader tips

• I screwed some wooden clothespins to my shop wall to hold tools and hardware. They were super easy to work with, cost very little and are very handy. I just pre-drilled a small hole in each one and then used small tacks to attach them to the wall. My wife liked them so much that she had me put some in her craft room to hold things up. She painted hers yellow to match the wallpaper, but I left mine natural.

• We started redoing our bathroom last spring, and are finally ready to hang the mirror. We almost made a terrible (and costly) mistake. The wall wasn't flat, and there was a slight bulge in the center from a repair we did (we weren't very good at it). If we had tried to bolt down the mirror, that bulge would have caused it to crack. Thank goodness we noticed it before tightening the screws on the hanger. We sanded down the wall and removed the bump. The mirror looks great now, and it's still in one piece! No bad luck for us!

• I didn't want to take the screen door down, even though it's getting a lot cooler. I still enjoy the fresh air, but I don't want any bugs or stray cats coming inside. I cleaned it with soapy water, and it had a sort of haze on it, so I grabbed a bottle of car interior cleaner. It's a silicone product, I believe. It cleaned the screen and took away the gray haze. It also seems like it might add some protection. It really worked well.

• I'm not much of a housekeeper. When I clean, I want it to stay clean longer. I found that I can use oily furniture polish to clean the plastic shower walls. It cleans off the soap scum and keeps the walls shiny for a couple of weeks. I've also noticed less mildew, probably because the surface is slicker. I just thought you might be interested in trying this.

Note: We did, and it works pretty well. Thanks!

• The kids and I make our own fire-starters for camping and our home fires. We save the cardboard cores from paper towels and toilet tissue. Then we press the end closed and staple it shut. We fill it with scraps of paper, twigs from the yard, lint from the dryer and other similar fire-starting materials. We have fun collecting and stuffing them. Then we staple the other end closed to seal them up.


• If you have noticed that the pressure in your water supply has diminished over time, especially the hot-water supply, it may be something as simple as mineral deposits clogging up the lines. It's not a very hard thing to fix once you know a little trick you can play with a dime. It's a very simple thing to do, and it may just solve your problems -- at least, your water-pressure problems. This information is also available at!

• The RotoZip tool is very versatile. It's one of our shop favorites. RotoZip has just added some new Zipdiscs to the existing line of useful products. The medium and coarse abrasive wheels are perfect for grinding off tough materials like thin-set, mastic, paint and rust. They are built to last and won't fall apart as you work. It will make this kind of chore a whole lot easier and quicker. They are available at hardware stores and home centers. To find out more about these discs as well as the RotoZip, go to or call 877-ROTOZIP.

• If you like to shop for home improvements and like to save money, then you should shop your local ReStore. These resale outlets are part of Habitat for Humanity, and they have all kinds of goodies for the home. You can find furniture, cabinets, flooring, paint, lamps and tons of other items at a HUGE discount. Some are used, and some are new. The money you spend at the ReStore goes to support your local Habitat for Humanity. There are 825 ReStores around the U.S. and Canada, so there's probably one near you. To find out more, to sign up to volunteer or to otherwise support this great organization, go to

• 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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