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posted: 1/17/2014 12:30 AM

A midseason fireplace-safety checklist:

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If you use your wood-burning fireplace a lot, it's probably due for a midseason checkup about now. Here is a list of things you should take a close look at monthly during a long, cold winter.

• Some ashes are OK, but you should clean them out when they start piling up. Your fires will burn more efficiently with less ash buildup. Just make sure you put the ashes into a metal container, and take them outdoors and wet them to put out any hot embers that might still be alive.

• While it's fairly clean, take a close look at the mortar between the bricks to make sure it's still in good shape. Gaps could create a fire hazard, so make repairs with high-temp mortar before using it again.

• Try to burn seasoned wood, because fresher wood will create creosote in your flue, which can start a chimney fire if it's allowed to build up too much.

• A metal screen placed in front of the firebox is a good way to prevent embers from accidentally blowing out into the room, but it probably isn't strong enough to stop a log from rolling out, so don't leave your fireplace unattended.

• Glass doors can be closed when hot embers are still burning, so you can leave the damper open and go to bed. The doors should fit tightly so you don't lose a lot of heating up the flue. Make sure to close it in the morning if you are not using it any longer.

• Make sure you have carbon monoxide and fire detectors in the home, as well as a fire extinguisher.

• If you have other concerns, have your fireplace and chimney inspected by a professional.

• Stay warm, and be safe!

Homemade squeegee

When you need to pick up a wet mess, a squeegee is a super tool to use. It can help you move the water in a hurry, too. But if you don't have one and want to make one, try this: Just use a rake (or even a hoe) and a scrap of foam pipe insulation. Attach this foam over the blade or tines, and secure it with tape or a rubber band. Now you have your very own, personal squeegee. There will be no excuse for not cleaning up now!

Use for juice jugs

We have been recycling since long before it was "the thing to do," and we have heard about lots of super ways to recycle plastic jugs. One of the most popular things to make from an empty milk jug is a scooper for dry materials. You've probably tried it yourself. But we also have a suggestion for recycling those smaller plastic jugs, like the ones juice comes in. These make a scoop that is just the perfect size for a standard gutter. They usually are strong enough to clean out most of the leaves and acorns once a month. You'll want to do a more thorough job when you have time, but a small jug will do a good enough job to keep things running smoothly.

Super hints

• If numbers on your wrenches and pliers are stamped in but no longer easy to read, just rub some white paint over the numbers. It will get into the indentations and make them much easier to see.

• If one of your New Year's resolutions is to clean out your shop or garage, think about donating a lot of the good materials to a local charity. Check around and see if there are local builders or other charitable organizations that could make good use of these items.

• When gluing two pieces of wood together, you want to see a slight, continuous line of glue squeezing out of the joint. A little practice will help you get it right every time.

Q. I finally pulled some of my parents' furniture out of storage to use in our home. I have a problem in that some of these pieces have a sort of musty smell to them. What can I do to get rid of this odor?

A. Wipe down all the surfaces, inside and out, with mineral-spirits paint thinner. This will get rid of any dust and grease. If the wood has not been sealed, then you can apply a sealer. Clear will work fine, and will seal in the smells. That should take care of the problem.

Q. I have a problem: My kitchen food disposal keeps getting stuck. I can use the wrench that came with it to get it turning again, but it doesn't go for long before it gets stuck again. Can you give me any clues about what might be causing this and how I might fix it?

A. Remove the rubber guard from the sink drain and, making sure everything is cut off, clean the inside thoroughly just to make sure there isn't something stuck in there that might be causing the problem. Another possibility is that it is just starting to wear out. If it's more than 10 years old, it likely is time to replace it.

Q. I have been working on a wood project, and glued an extension to a table before nailing it in place. I thought I wiped off all the excess wood glue, but now can see the sheen of it on the wood. I really want to stain it, but am afraid the glue will show when I try to apply it. How can I get it all off before staining it?

A. You're right to remove any trace of glue, as it will prevent even staining of the wood. Just use a damp rag and a plastic scrubbing sponge to remove it. You also can sand the surface if you need to, in order to remove any raised grain and to open the pores of the wood again. Always make sure to use a tack rag after sanding to remove any trace of dust.

Reader tips

• I did some part-time work in my nephew's greenhouse operation and learned a neat trick. When I had to water over my head, I folded the end of my work gloves up to catch the drips. Well, it seems so simple to do, but I had never tried it. The last time I found myself painting overhead, I did the same thing with my work gloves. Sure enough, those paint drips didn't get to my arms like they used to. I certainly will be doing this from now on, and I thought it might be of interest to your readers.

• I've seen lots of tips in your columns about organizing rolls of tape in the workshop. Here's mine. I have a paper towel holder that used to sit on my kitchen counter. It's just a round piece of wood with a dowel sticking up from the center to hold the roll of paper towels on your kitchen counter. Well, I bought one for my shop, too, and I keep all of my tape on this holder. Everything is right there when I need it and I don't even have to remove them to get the tape off. It's very handy.

• We cover our pool during the winter months. It cuts way down on the cleaning we would have to do, plus it's too cold to get out there much anyway. We do get a lot of leaves on top of the cover but are able to vacuum them off when they pile up too much. I have a long section of PVC pipe that I hook up to my shop vac, and I just push it out onto the cover to pick up the leaves. It's the only way to reach them since you can't walk on top of the cover.

• I have a neat trick to pass along to your readers. We live in a rural area and have mice occasionally. I don't like traps because I just don't have time to check them daily. I use poison, but I realize the need to be careful with it. I use coffee cans with lids on them as my "traps." I cut a small hole on one side and then put some poison blocks inside the can. Then I glue the lid onto the can. This allows the mice to get in but won't accidentally let a cat or dog in. It works quite well, and I have a steady supply of coffee cans for when it's time to refill them.

• We really like our new stainless-steel appliances. They look great most of the time. I have learned a little trick from my sister about cleaning them, though: You can use rubbing alcohol to get the grease and grime off them and make them look new again. It also disinfects them. She even polishes hers with olive oil, but I'm happy if they are just clean and shiny at my house!


• In reference to the previous reader's question, you might not have ever used a tack rag. The fact is that if you have spent a lot of time and money to get a piece of furniture to the stage where it's ready for a good finish, you really don't want to skip this step. You can buy tack rags at your hardware store if you like, but you also can make them. For faster instructions, download them off our website, A good tack rag will last you through several woodworking projects and will make your efforts worthwhile. You even can reuse them over and over again.

• The TwinTec Ratcheting Wrench from Stanley is a super tool for the DIY handyman. The Quick Adjust Dials eliminate the need for any sockets. They are easy to adjust to fit exactly what you need to in both metric and standard sizes. This is a very tight fit, and not like some other lightweight, adjustable wrenches. The ratcheting feature is easy to operate and works smoothly, and it's made of a very strong composite material that is tough enough to have a lifetime warranty. Check it out at your home center or hardware store, or online at

• If you are looking for an economical, safe and simple alternative to a space heater, take a look at the Envi at This sleek, wall-mounted heater can save you up to 50 percent in heating costs. It installs in minutes, both the hard-wired and plug-in models. It hugs the wall with a 2-inch profile and stays cool to the touch, so it's safe around children and pets. Find out more online or call (800) 807-0107.

• 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

2013, Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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