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posted: 4/4/2014 12:01 AM

Lovely old lamps can be dangerous

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An old lamp may look beautiful, but it can be dangerous. Rewiring it to make it safer is fairly easy in most cases. Here is how to do it, and a few extra tips you can try, too:

• Unplug the lamp before doing anything to it.

• Clean the whole lamp first. This is a good way to inspect it for damage and to see how it all fits together, which will come in handy for the rewiring. Use a rag with some warm, soapy water to clean all of the surfaces. If you are dealing with brass, copper or other metals, use a metal polish to give them some extra shine.

• Most lamps will have a wire running through the center of the base, connecting the lamp socket to the plug. If the lamp is older, consider replacing the wire, as they do break down over time. This also will give you the option of upgrading the socket to allow for more light from a higher-wattage bulb.

• Take a look at the bottom of the lamp and see if there is a cover over the base that will let you access the wiring.

• Unscrew the base of the socket to access the wiring. Loosen the screws that hold the wires in place, and pull them off the terminals. Then loosen the strain relief screw, or untie the knot.

• Use electrical tape to tie the new wiring to the old wiring at the top of the fixture so you can pull it through the fixture.

• Once the new wire is in place, prepare the ends for the connections by stripping off the insulation and exposing the wires. Tie the Underwriter's Knot between the end of the socket and the ends of the wires before making the connections. Bend the wires into a small loop to wind around the screws in a clockwise direction so that as you tighten the screws, the wires also will tighten. Double-check your connections to make sure they are made properly and safely.

• Install a quick-connect plug on the end, and you're done.

This really is a fairly simple project, so if it sounds like something you can't handle, get someone else to do it. Even hiring someone shouldn't be too costly because of its simplicity. Good luck!

Simple storage

The challenge of fixing a broken toaster is just fun for some of us. We have a simple way to keep track of all those tiny parts that come off the toaster, or any other small project, as you start to work on it. Use an ice-cube tray or a muffin tin. The small compartments will hold one piece at a time, and if you put them in a specific order, it will make putting the fixed toaster back together easier, too.

Keep cleanup easy

Painting can be a lot of fun. We like to keep our work area as clean as possible to cut down on cleanup later. One thing you will need is a good place to set your brushes down when you need to switch to a roller, stir your paint or just take a break. Grab a clean aluminum can and use tape or cable ties to attach it to your ladder, paint can or anywhere else that will keep it handy, upright and close to your working area. You can set your brush in the can when you need to and pick it back up when you are ready to use it again. Just throw the can away when you have finished using it. That might be the only cleanup you'll need to do, other than cleaning your brushes and rollers.

Super hints

• If you run across a large pill organizer that has a series of compartments, use them to organize small amounts of hardware. Keep these in your toolbox or on your workbench.

• Decorate your switchplates with paint or wallpaper to give your room a whole new look. If you want to get more creative, try a mosaic or bejewel it. The idea is to give it some pizazz and make it unique.

• It's time to take care of those bald spots in your yard with a little grass seed. To get a very even "sprinkle," fill an empty spice or grated cheese bottle, the kind with the holes in the top, with grass seed and use this to distribute the seeds more evenly. Press them into the soil, then water.

Q. I'm not ready to replace my kitchen sink faucet just yet, but I have a problem that I need your help with. How can I get my vegetable sprayer working again?

A. Hopefully it's just clogged with mineral deposits, which is a common issue. Try taking the sprayer apart and soaking the parts in vinegar. This will dissolve the mineral deposits. Then put it back together and give it a test. That ought to do it.

Q. I have a question about my refrigerator. The refrigerator seems too cold and the freezer feels too warm. I've actually had frozen lettuce in the refrigerator. What are the exact temperatures that each compartment are supposed to be?

A. You'll want to use a thermometer that will go down below zero. Place it in the freezer for at least an hour to get a good reading. It should be about 5 degrees. Do the same with the refrigerator, which should be about 34 degrees. Check your owner's manual as to how to adjust the settings to obtain these temperatures. It's probably just a dial, or it could be a simple sliding panel located between the two.

Q. I think I have located a small leak near the bottom of my water heater. Can I patch it with something? Or should I just replace it?

A. You really ought to start shopping for a replacement. You can try patching it in the interim with plumber's epoxy putty. The small leak is more than likely an early warning sign that your current water heater is nearing the end of its life. A small leak can grow quickly, so put it in next month's budget.

Reader tips

• My wife wanted me to paint all of our molding a dark color. I knew that it would take forever, so I proposed a compromise: I wanted to use a glaze instead. It could be quickly and easily wiped on, and would take a fraction of the time, but it still would accentuate the different layers and carvings. We tried it in the back hallway, and it looks fantastic. I was able to do the rest of the house in just one weekend. It would have taken a whole lot longer to paint it with several coats of paint, masking and all the rest.

• My dad always used steel wool for tough cleaning chores. I like to use it, too, but I always wondered how to avoid the rust that happens when it's just sitting around waiting to be used. My older brother shared with me that he had always stored it in a small jar of mineral oil. I never knew this before, but it makes sense. The oil also gives it some extra cleaning power. It works, too -- I've tried it. It keeps the steel wool from rusting, and it really adds some power when scrubbing at rusty metal surfaces.

• I still have a couple of old metal gas cans. I really like them and, even though they are old, they still hold gas. I repainted them, so they look great, and I also put petroleum jelly on the cap threads. This helps them twist off and on easier. Why would you get rid of things just because they are old? If it ain't broke, don't replace it.

• Our old spa came with some plastic steps -- not very sturdy. My husband and I made some better wooden steps that even match the rest of the patio furniture. We hinged the top step so that we could store things right under the steps. We are able to keep the spa chemicals there. They are much sturdier, and I love the extra storage.

• We have an old folding card table and chairs that were looking rather ragged. So I found some new fabric to use to cover the seats as well as the table top. I stripped the old stuff and used metal paint to spruce up the frame. Then I covered the seats and the tabletop with the new fabric. It looks new, and I feel a lot better using it, too.


• If you have a lot of spray-painting to do, grab a CanGun1 and make it a whole lot easier. The CanGun1 Spray Can Tool fits onto a standard spray-paint can and turns it into an E-Z Pull FullGrip Trigger. It's so much easier to handle, and it keeps your hands from getting dirty, too. It's made in the good ol' U.S.A. from recycled plastic. When you're finished, snap it off and save it for your next spray-paint project. Check it out at or at your hardware store or home center.

• If you are in the market for a new stepladder, check out the latest from Werner. The 6200 Series has a new, and improved top called the Locktop that securely organizes several of your most-needed tools, including a high-capacity bin for hardware, slot for a drill or hammer, pipe holder, magnetic hardware strip and screwdriver holder. The design is safer to use and built to last a long time. To find out more about the features and sizes available, 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

© 2014, Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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