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posted: 7/11/2014 12:01 AM

It's not hard to get creative with concrete

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Flooring choices include carpet, wood planks, tile, vinyl -- but wait, there's more! Concrete is underneath these covering materials, in some cases. You can get pretty creative with the concrete itself. You can stain it, paint it and stencil it, both indoors and out. Here are some basic instructions to prepare a plain concrete surface for your artistic creation.

You need to remove anything that is attached or covering the concrete right now. If, after the carpet or vinyl is removed, you still have adhesive, tack strips, nails or anything else, you need to remove that as well.

Sweep and vacuum the floor. Use a concrete cleaner to remove any oil, grease or anything else that might be left behind on the surface.

Use pre-mixed concrete patching compound to fill small holes left behind by things like tack strip nails.

If your floor is rough or needs to be evened out, you can apply a concrete topper or self-leveling compound. This generally is smoothed on with a trowel.

Now you are ready for the creative part of the project. Do your homework by visiting some home centers, flooring stores, websites, home shows and other places to get some great ideas.

Once you decide what process you want to use on your floor, mask off trim, walls, thresholds and transitions to connecting rooms and get busy.

If you can, apply a clear coat of polyurethane to seal and protect your project.

Clean stuffed drawers

Want to know a super way to clean out a dirty drawer or box? Cover the end of the vacuum hose with hardware cloth or screen wire and vacuum out the dirt. If you use the right-size wire, you can get the cleaning done without losing anything else in the process. It works on drawers, tool boxes, tackle boxes and other places like this. Give it a shot and see if you can make cleaning a whole lot faster and more fun!

Make a connection

There are several acceptable ways to make electrical connections, but a wire on a terminal screw still is the most common connection around -- and a very secure connection at that. If the wire is made of strands, twist them together to form a single wire. Then, coil the end of the wire into a hook. Loosen the screw that you are connecting, and loop the hooked wire around it with the end facing the direction you are tightening the screw. Now when you turn the screw, the wire turns a little with it to make a super-tight connection. It's a simple little trick that we learned a long time ago, and it works like a champ.

Super hints

• Thank goodness for the new smartphones. Check your app store for great add-on gadgets like a level, compass, various material calculators and tons more great things to try. A lot of your favorite stores and magazines even have apps so do a little digging and see what you can come up with. There's something for every DIY'er!

• A super way to keep track of maintenance on appliances and tools is to put a large sticker on them. Then note the repair and date. It will be handy when you need to check it out, and serve as a reminder to do more maintenance when it's needed.

Q. I am interested in making a concrete countertop. What information can you give me so I know what I'm doing before I get started?

A. We did a little research of our own and found that QuikreteCement & Concrete Products is a great source of information on a wide variety of DIY projects, including counter tops. The company even makes a special Countertop Mix that is very smooth, nonshrinking and very high-strength. Just go to their website,, and do a search. You'll find product information and decent instructions, too. Good luck.

Q. Our back-patio roof is attached to the house and supported on the front by columns. One column is rotting at the bottom and I need to replace it. What should I use to support the roof while I pull the column out and put the new one in place?

A. Smart thinking to ask. A lot of people pull out the old column and then can't get the new one in. All you need to do is to hold it up with a 2x4 that is a little taller than the post, set in right next to it. Make sure you have the new post ready and install it as soon as you have the old one removed.

Q. We want to add some steppingstones to our small backyard. We do a lot of light landscaping and have gravel paths, but they are not easy to walk on and are not too attractive. Can you give us some ideas for some nice-looking steppingstones?

A. If you do a little shopping around, you'll find some really unique steppingstones that you can buy, other than the pre-cast concrete steppingstones. But even the concrete steppingstones can be jazzed up with paint or stain. Use stencils if you need a little help. You also could make your own from molds available online or at your local craft store. You can install shells, glass, rocks and other objects in the design. They even make some glow-in-the-dark items that can be put into the concrete. Do a little searching and have some fun with it. We've even run across some with built-in lights to make getting around in the yard at night easier.

Reader tips

• We've patched our tent in several places, but during our last trip the zipper was the problem -- it was sticking. My wife grabbed a candle and rubbed it over the zipper and -- voila! -- it runs smoothly now. After we got home, we did this again just to make sure we had no more problems. Then we did the sleeping bags and chair covers, too.

• I found a neat gadget that I had never seen before. It's a spring hinge, and you can use it in place of a standard hinge to automatically close a door. It's simple to install, easy to adjust and makes any door close automatically. I love it for our back porch screen door, which always was a hassle to deal with, especially when you have a tray full of burgers just off the grill. I'm going to install one in the laundry room next.

• This year I've been plagued with rabbits in my garden. I think they are cute, but less cute when they eat my baby tomato plants. I remember my dad always telling me to put talcum powder around the garden to keep them out. I used baby powder, but it worked. I haven't seen one in several days and I haven't done anything else but put out the powder. I'll put more out when it rains. It's inexpensive and easy enough to do.

• I'm not a big spender, but I wanted to put up some permanent shelves in my garage. I bought a dozen metal closet-rod shelf brackets and installed them on the walls. I used scrap wood for the shelves. I bought pipe and set it in the rod holders. Now I have shelves, and I use the pipes to hang cords and other tools. Maybe someday I'll upgrade to the expensive ones, but for right now I'm happy with these.

• Our deck is low -- almost on the ground -- so we only needed pier blocks for the joists to sit on. We made our own in buckets. We poured the concrete into the bucket, and then set a scrap of wood over the top to make the right size indentation for the joist. Then we let it set up and turned it out. It took a few buckets and a couple of days, but we made all that we needed, and they actually will work better for us than the pre-made blocks.

• I got some PVC scraps from my husband, and installed them to the inside of my bathroom vanity with screws. I mounted them on the door vertically, and use them to hold my curling iron, hair dryer, comb and flat iron. I put plugs in the bottom of two to keep the items from slipping too far down. It frees up a lot of counter space, as well as cabinet space.


• If you're getting bored just sitting around on your front porch, why not take up the game of chess? We have some super plans for making your own chess set out of hardware. It's really great-looking and made from leftovers and odds and ends you probably have sitting around your workbench. If you've got a lot of hardware just collecting dust, you probably already have what you need. If not, it won't cost much to put a complete set together. Of course, you'll have to master the game yourself! And check out to see what else we have available for you.

• Painting a rug is something many people have tried through the years, including us. Sometimes it works; sometimes it does not. Now Vecco Rug Paint is available. Vecco is a spray paint, available in a good variety of colors that can be applied directly to a plain, boring rug. Use stencils or masking tape to protect the rest of the rug from overspray. The ideas are only limited by your imagination. If you make a mistake, you can vacuum it up shortly afterward. Once you have it like you want it, apply the sealer, which also is sprayed on. After that it will last a long time and show your talents to your friends and family. To find out more, see an instructional video and get some super project ideas, go to

• Cord clutter is a common problem, and we've presented some pretty clever ways to control this issue through the years, but Recoil Winders is a super solution. Recoil Winders are small, easy-to-load, automatic recoilers for small cords like ear buds, phone chargers and things like that. Once the cord is loaded into the Recoil Winder, it automatically coils it inside, where it is protected from tangles and damage. It comes in three sizes and there's even a small stand to park your RWs. To find out more, go to We're looking forward to a jumbo size for extension cords one of these days!

• 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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