Super handyman: Tips for wrangling those extension cords

Posted6/1/2012 5:11 AM

Cordless tools have a place in the workshop, home and yard, but there are lots of times when only a corded tool will do. That usually comes with the use of an extension cord, as well.

Don't let these long cords get the best of you. Learn how to manage them in an easy, safe way. Here are some of our favorite tips.

When using extension cords, try to find one that is long enough but not too long for the job you are doing. If the cord is longer, don't keep the excess coiled up while in use. Be careful not to crimp the cord as well, and never use a damaged cord. Repair or replace it as soon as you spot damage.

Don't leave a cord plugged in with no tool attached to the other end, and keep cords away from water. Make sure the outlet you use for outdoor tools is GFCI-protected to avoid deadly shocks.

Storing the cord offers lots of options. You easily can store a long extension cord in a plastic bucket, which you can hang in your garage or shed.

Cut or form an "H" from a piece of wood or scraps of PVC pipe. This makes a great reel on which to wind a long extension cord. They even make something similar that you can buy at your hardware store.

Cord reels that wind the cord also are pretty handy. Some are on wheels, so you easily can tote around a long, heavy cord, and others can be attached directly to your garage wall, right next to the outlet. You even can use an empty garden-hose reel if you have one sitting around.

A longtime contractor trick actually uses a simple crochet knot to shorten the cord and keep it from tangling in storage.

When coiling your cords for storage freehand, use a bungee cord to secure them. If you are looking for a more permanent tie, use a cable tie -- just don't cinch it so tight that it damages the cord.

Whatever method you use, just make sure you keep cords in good shape and use them with safety in mind.

Metal collector

Getting a new roof can give you peace of mind. Of course, if the roofers leave behind a bunch of debris for you to pick up, then it's not much of a relief. A neighbor asked for help when he found a bunch of nails in his yard after the roofers left. (He found out the hard way when mowing.) We have a super way to pick up metal in your yard, whether it's from a sloppy roofer or a homemade mess. Glue magnets to the top of the head of your push broom and drag it around your yard to pick up any metal that gets attracted to it. You might be surprised by what you end up with.

Protect sprinkler heads

Replacing sprinkler heads isn't very hard, but it is messy and time-consuming. If you find that you are doing it more often than you'd like, perhaps you can help shield your sprinkler heads from abuse by making them easier to spot and avoid when mowing and trimming. Use an empty aluminum can, turned upside down so that the open end is facing down, and push it down over the head. This will cut through the grass around the head, and you can pull it out of the way, exposing the head. It will make it easy to spot, eliminate any blockage in the case of pop-up heads and keep grass and weeds away so you don't have to get near it with your implements of destruction.

Super hints

• Solar outdoor lighting is a simple way to light up your yard without running wiring and paying for electricity. It also comes in handy if your power indoors goes off. Just bring that outside light inside, and you will have light until the power comes back on.

• A sink that won't hold water can be a real frustration. I found a great way to stop up a leaking sink with a scrap of plastic wrap. I just slip it under the stopper, so that it sticks out around the edges, before pushing the drain plug in. That usually holds the water, and I can get my chores done. This would work in a bathtub, too.

• A straw broom won't work as well once it's worn and starting to bend and spread apart, but you can give it a "hair cut" and have a whole new broom again. Just use shears to trim off the rough edges and give it a smooth edge again. It'll work wonders on an old broom.

Q. Why can't I get the toilet-tissue holder to stay on the wall? I've remounted the holder with new, more heavy-duty screws, but even though the brackets are up there really solidly, the front parts that hold the roll in place keep falling off. What can I do?

A. Most of these "front" or decorative bracket covers are held in place with very small set screws. You should get a small screwdriver, loosen the set screws, place the cover on top of the bracket and tighten the set screw again. Usually this will do the trick. Good luck.

Q. I found a large gap in the cabinet under my stove where the gas line comes through the wall. I put tape around it last winter, but the tape won't stay over it. What else can I use that might work better?

A. Expanding foam insulation is a great product for this purpose. It's easy to use and fills larger gaps like this very easily. Look around your house for other areas that might need this, as it's best to use the entire can at once.

Q. We plan to paint our concrete steps but aren't sure what type of paint to use. What would you recommend?

A. Use an exterior paint, made for concrete surfaces. You'll need to thoroughly clean the concrete first. Then let it dry completely -- this might take a couple of days. Use a primer to seal the surface and to help the paint "stick." Then use your concrete paint. Epoxy paint might be an option to consider if this area gets a lot of traffic. The epoxy paint is applied a little differently, so check the package directions first to see if it will work for you. Consider applying a clear coat over either surface to protect it further. If this is a slippery area when wet, add some sand to the paint to make the steps safer.

Reader tips

• After several attempts to fix a "leaking" toilet, I finally discovered that it was sweating, not leaking, onto the floor. Apparently the moisture in the bathroom was condensing on the side of the tank and dripping onto the floor. I found a nice insulating kit for just this purpose at my hardware store. It had foam inserts that you put inside the tank, and this prevents the sweating on the outside of the tank. Finally, an answer to this problem!

• Our pool gets a lot of use during the summertime. We have several metal tables, and some have rust on them. I found that I could remove most of it with table salt and lemon juice. It works pretty well, and I don't have to use any store-bought chemicals. I save money, too, by using household stuff and by being able to keep this furniture in decent shape for another year or two. Try this on rust around your house if you are tired of using expensive chemicals to do it.

• We have been renovating our bathroom -- mostly just paint and some new faucets. It really is starting to look great. We took the old shower curtain down and were going to trash it but decided to use it as a dropcloth for the painting. It worked great, protected the floor nicely and is now truly ready for the garbage. I guess I could have washed it off and saved it for my next project, but I hope I won't have one again for a while!

• You'll appreciate this. I have used a box of baking soda in my garage closet for years, changing it out occasionally, to keep the bad odors and moisture under control. It works great. I have started keeping some in my boat when it's covered to do the same thing. I even sprinkled some on the carpet and vacuumed it up. The boat smells fresh and clean every time we take it out. It really helps with the swampy smell that some boats tend to have.

• I found a great way to use dryer lint. It's for the birds! I gather up a bunch on laundry day and put it in the bushes. The birds come by and take what they need for nesting material. It's fun to watch them take it and then follow them to see where their nests are. This year, my birdhouses were almost all full, and I think next year we'll have no vacancies, plus a bug-free garden!


• Staining concrete, intentionally, can give it a whole new look. Rust-Oleum has a concrete stain that comes in a spray can. It doesn't get much easier than that. And it comes in seven different colors, plus matte and gloss clear. It's water-based, penetrating and semitransparent. Use several colors together for a really unique design, or just keep it simple with one color. It comes in a gallon size, also, if you have a large surface to cover. We think doing some steppingstones with the spray would make a great weekend project to class up your yard a little! Check it out at or at your paint store.

• If you don't have a good "quick-connect" adapter for your garden hose, you are missing out. We use the Craftsman Brass Quick Connector because we wanted one that would last a long time. It's super-easy to use and never leaks. It still allows the hose to swivel when it needs to, but it stays put until you release it. It saves time and aggravation, not to mention wet sneakers! Check it out at or at your Sears store.

• 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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