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posted: 12/7/2012 5:52 AM

Super handyman: It's time for a Christmas tree again!

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Now that we're stuffed with stuffing, it's time to talk about the holidays. Christmas is less than a month away, so you need to start thinking about picking up a fresh-cut tree soon. Here are some of our favorite tips for picking out the best tree and for keeping it safe until after the festivities.

• If you plan to get a fresh-cut tree, choose a source that you know has truly fresh trees. If you have a local tree farm, that's going to be the freshest source, plus it's a lot of fun to go to a place like that.

• If you have to buy one that has been shipped in, look for one that has supple branches. Try bending a finger-size branch down a little. If it snaps off, it's not very fresh.

• Lift the trunk off the ground and then tap it down. If needles rain down, it has started to dry out too much. Keep looking.

• You also can scrape a little bark off the trunk with your thumbnail. If it's green and moist underneath, it's pretty fresh.

• When you bring your tree home, cut off the bottom inch or so to allow the trunk to take up water, and then set it in a bucket or the tree stand, filled with warm water and tree preservative. You can buy this where trees are sold or make your own. Our favorite recipe is:

Tree preservative

1 gallon warm water

4 tablespoons horticultural iron powder

4 teaspoons liquid laundry bleach

2 cups clear Karo syrup

Mix these up and use it to fill your tree stand and keep your tree fresh longer. Be sure to cover your floor to prevent damage from splashing, and keep your pets away!

Whether your tree is fresh or not, keep it away from the heating vents to prevent drying out, or worse. Don't leave the pretty lights on when you are not home. If you are using an old strand that is starting to fray or that has nicks in it, replace it. Many hardware stores will take these old strands in for recycling and will give you a credit toward some new LED lights. These are more costly, but they will last for a super-long time and will use practically no electricity at all. Make sure all smoke detectors have fresh batteries and are in good working order every winter!

Have a safe and very blessed Christmas, and a happy holiday with your friends and family!

Those six-pack soda rings are good for something

There's good news and bad news about those plastic rings that keep a six-pack of soda corralled. The bad news is that they are bad for the environment. But the good news is that you can reuse them in your workshop. They are strong and just stretchy enough to hold tight around a wound-up rope, extension cord, garden hose or plumbing snake. Use a strip of three (cut the six in half) like a slipknot around cords like this. Leave them intact but folded in half to make it twice as strong. Just wrap the whole thing around a coiled extension cord, and then slip the loop at the other end through the first one to hold it tight. You even can hang the coiled material on a hook or nail on the shop wall. Use these in your garage and shed, too.

Quiet those cabinets easily with felt bumpers

Have you seen the newer cabinets that automatically close, and do so quietly? It would be a super upgrade to make at some point. But if you aren't ready for that, you can quiet your cabinet doors simply by applying a small felt bumper along the inside corner of each one. This allows for a quiet closure and costs very little time or money to achieve. Give it a shot one afternoon. It works on drawers and even full-size doors.

Super hints

• It's a good idea to let your paintbrushes sit in water or solvent after painting, but to avoid the bristles bending in the bottom of the container, support the brush with a dowel or stir stick that extends just past the end of the bristles, secured to the brush handle with a rubber band.

• Dad and I have always had a heart for helping others. That's why we love doing this newspaper column. I am a member of the Texas Baptist Men, and am currently deployed in New York. We would like to encourage you to join a local group and help your own community. You'll really enjoy working with other people who are helping, too!

• We all know to seal around doors and windows to keep out the cold air, but wall outlets and switchplates also are places where air can get in. Hold a lit candle or stick incense up to the edge of the cover plate to see if air is moving in. If so, add a foam insulation pad to seal up that leak.

Q. Our bathroom has a bad smell coming from it. I've eliminated just about everything but the toilet. It seems to be working fine, but I can still smell what seems like a sewer smell coming from that area. What should I look for, and how can I fix the problem?

A. The first thing that comes to mind is a broken wax seal where the toilet base fits onto the floor flange. If the seal is broken, it can allow sewer gas back into the room. Eventually it will start to leak, so replacing the wax ring should be on your to-do list. Another thing to check would be your vent stack. It is there to allow air into the system for proper drainage, and if it is clogged, then it can cause a problem, but the toilet should be flushing slowly, also. The bathroom sinks might drain slowly, too. Clean out the vent stack with a plumbing snake.

Q. We need to add a water heater to our home, and we have a couple of questions. Should we add a second one, in series, or perhaps add a tankless heater to part of the house?

A. To avoid a lot of extra costs, a second water heater, in series, would be our choice. Tankless water heaters are great for some situations, but there's usually a lot of plumbing involved in adding one, not to mention splitting off part of the existing system.

Q. What is a CFL bulb?

A. It stands for "compact fluorescent lamp," and these bulbs are a super replacement for a standard incandescent bulb. They don't get as hot, and they use a lot less electricity.

Reader tips

• I had started to worry about our shower head. It had become wobbly, and I was actually afraid that it might fall off. I checked it and found that the head was secure to the pipe but the pipe was loose, or at least not secured within the wall for some reason. I made sure that it wasn't leaking, and then I pumped some expanding foam insulation into the wall cavity around this pipe and let it set up. Now the pipe doesn't wobble anymore. I understand that this stuff is waterproof too, in case it does start to leak.

Note: It is waterproof, but not under the pressure of a supply line, so make sure to repair the leak ASAP if you find one.

• I found a great solution for cleaning my windows, and it works on the really dusty film that collects on them too. I mix 1/3 cup of alcohol, 1/3 cup of ammonia and 2/3 cup of water with just a bit of dishwashing soap. I spray it on and squeegee it off. It leaves no film or streaks, and it even works in really cold weather. It's also a lot cheaper than the store-bought stuff.

• We always have a good supply of plastic grocery bags on hand around our house. They come in handy for lots of things. We use them to line trash cans, mostly. But another of my favorite uses is to cover my hands when I have to do a dirty chore and don't want to ruin my good work gloves. I've also used them to cover door handles when I am working on the car or painting, so I don't get grease or paint on the door handles when I take a break.

• I'm OK, but my wife and son both have allergies. It's more serious for my son than my wife, but we are trying to use fewer chemicals around the house and things like that. Our pediatrician pointed out that regular laundry bleach might be a problem, so we switched to vinegar to clean tough stains like mildew around our home. You still have to wear gloves when using it, but it doesn't have the fumes like regular bleach does. It still gets the job done, too.

• When I am working on a project and need a small paint tray or something to mix epoxy in, I look in my recycling bin. I usually have a plastic food tray and some plastic spoons and things in there that will work perfectly for that purpose. They can be put right back in when I'm finished using them. I guess it's like recycling the recycling!


• 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.

• If you're in a hurry, then Dap's 3.0 line of caulks is perfect for you. All start setting up quickly, and they cure fast, too. The line includes caulk for just about every need around your home, and it's odor-free and low-VOC. It even comes with a lifetime guarantee. You can find out more about the whole line of products through It's available at most paint and hardware stores as well as your local home center.

• New countertops can cost a bundle, but there is a way to "redo" old counters without taking out a loan. Rust-Oleum Countertop Transformations is a simple, affordable way to do it. In just one weekend, you can turn a boring, dull countertop into a work of art that looks just like granite or natural stone. It's not going to last a lifetime, but it can withstand quite a bit of standard abuse. Do it now, before your Christmas guests arrive. Each kit comes with everything you need to do the job in just a couple of days. To find out more, go to and take a look at the video for yourself.

• 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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