Picking the perfect holiday tree

Posted12/13/2013 12:18 AM

It's hard to believe we're almost into 2014. But let's make the most of this last month of the year. Most of us will celebrate the holidays with family, which usually means decorating the Christmas tree. If you are like us, that means going to the tree farm to pick out the perfect specimen to bring home and decorate. Here's what we look for, in the hope that it will last until New Year's Day!

• The fresher the tree, the longer it will last, if it's properly maintained. If you can get to a tree farm where Christmas trees are grown just for fresh cutting, do so. That way, you will cut your own tree down so you know it's fresh. It's also a lot of fun for the family and supports your local economy.

• If you buy a tree that's already been cut, then you need to take a closer look. Gently bend a smaller branch down. If it snaps off, the tree may be too dry to make it for the whole season.

• If the needles fall off easily when you move the tree around or brush your hand along the branches, then, again, it may be too dried out to last very long.

• Get it into water as soon as you can. If you just cut it, you don't need to do anything else. If the tree was cut earlier and shipped in, then you should cut another inch or so off the trunk to expose fresher wood that will absorb water and help keep the tree fresher longer.

• Water is good, but a tree preservative is better. You can buy the pre-made mixtures, or make your own. The formula we use is one that we've been using for years and we like it best.

The ingredients you need are:

1 gallon warm water

4 tablespoons of horticultural iron powder (from the garden center)

4 teaspoons of liquid laundry bleach

2 cups of crystal clear corn syrup

Mix these ingredients and pour it into the water reservoir for your tree. Make sure to protect flooring and keep the pets out of it! Check it every day and add more when it needs it.

• Keep the tree away from the heat registers and don't leave the lights on when you are not at home.

We hope you have fun getting your tree and decorating it. Remember the reason for the season, and have a super-safe holiday with all of your friends and family!

Hard metal

Drilling into metal is something that we all have to do at some point. You're not the only one who has a problem with the drill bit skating around on the surface. There is a trick you can use to make this a little easier and avoid scratching the metal surface with your drill bit. Just put a scrap of wood on top of the metal and clamp both together. Then drill through the wood and on down through the metal at the same time. Your hole will come out smooth and in just the right spot.

Pegboard containers

Lots of tools, hardware and other accessories easily hang on a pegboard wall. As for the other things that you want to keep handy, you can create simple "pockets" to hold them. We took a couple of plastic bottles from the recycling bin out in the garage. Then we cut off the tops of the bottles and punched a hole into the side so it would hang on a pegboard hook. Depending on what size bottle you use, it could hold tools, hardware or other items. One of our bottles now holds safety glasses and another holds a tape measure.

Super hints

• Latex or other surgical gloves fit really well and make a lot of messy projects easier. Because they fit well, they are easier to use and will save you cleanup time, too. Plus, you can buy them by the box for cheap!

• When you are using a mop or broom that has a twist-off handle and it keeps falling off, it can be very frustrating. If the socket is cracked, then you have to replace it, but if it's just worn, you can wrap the handle with some wire or rubber and then screw it back in. It should stay in place now.

• Plastic grocery bags make great emergency gloves for answering the door or phone when your hands are messy. Slip on one of these bags when it's time to empty the cat box, clean up a doggy boo-boo or any, and all, messes in and around your home.

Q. My kitchen stove is great and has two metal filters inside the vent hood. I need to find out how to get the grease off them. I've tried some degreasers, and they just aren't getting clean. What would you suggest?

A. Lay them in a shallow pan and cover them with mineral spirits paint thinner. This will loosen the grease. You can use a steel wool pad to get the heavy grease off. An old toothbrush also will work to remove the heavier areas of grease. After they are clean, wash them with soap and water to remove any paint thinner. Let them dry and reinstall them.

Q. How can I clean an old butcher block island without destroying the "old" look? What will work to sanitize it and protect it?

A. Wash it down with bleach and water to kill bacteria and germs. After it's dry, sand it smooth. Wipe the dust away and use a food-grade wood oil. Your hardware store should carry this. That's all you really need to do to bring it back to life. Do this every year, and it will last for a very long time!

Reader tips

• With all of the cold weather we have had, I know some of my neighbors have had frozen pipes. I have a neat cure that works for me. This doesn't work every time, but it will work sometimes. I just pour a cup of salt into the drain that is closest to the frozen area. The salt melts into the water and, when it gets to the frozen part, starts thawing it out. It's amazing how quickly it can work and it doesn't create enough pressure to burst the pipe, either. Try it yourself and you'll see.

• I have some old, inexpensive, aluminum patio chairs that I've had for years. They are great for extra seating and they fold up for easy storage, too. I wanted to make them look a little better, so I cleaned them and painted them with some new metal paint that gives them new life and a great look. I also bought new vinyl strips to wrap the chairs with. It was a fun project, and the chairs look absolutely amazing!

• We have a few outlets in our garage, and we have a refrigerator in there as well. Occasionally we trip the GFCI on the circuit on the outlet outside the garage, which trips all of the circuits in the garage. The reset button is behind the fridge, which is super hard to reach. We finally figured out that outlet is on a separate circuit and doesn't trip as often. We finally plugged the fridge into this outlet so we wouldn't have an accidental meltdown.

• I was watching the news and they reminded everyone to test their smoke detectors after a local fire. Well, I did it and was shocked to find that a couple of them didn't work because the batteries were dead. I went ahead and changed all of the batteries, and now I know that they all work!

• I found some white vinyl lattice panels. They look just like the ones made of wood, but they're vinyl, so they won't deteriorate in the weather. I used them to support my tomatoes and some other climbing vegetables in the garden this summer. I just washed them with a hose and they are good to go for next year. The old wooden panels probably wouldn't have made it through a single season, but these are just great.


HO! HO! HO! Would you like to make a nifty Christmas gift for your friends and family? Wind chimes add a touch of music to your deck or patio. We have easy-to-follow plans online for a set of wind chimes made from electrical conduit (pipe), which is easy to cut and not very expensive. The other parts are available at your favorite hardware place -- or you may already have what you need, left over from another project, right in your garage. Make some for your own yard, too!

• You don't need to wear a biohazard outfit to use Smart Strip. Better yet, it actually works -- quite well. Smart Strip has been around for several years, and we've used it on really tough stripping projects. It's 100 percent biodegradable, washes off with soap and water, and has no fumes to deal with. It can remove several layers of paint and other coatings in just one pass, which could save you a lot of time. It works on brick, stone, concrete, wood and even fiberglass. It is perfect for removing lead-based paints without scraping or sanding. The formula stays wet longer to keep working longer. Also available is a special laminated membrane that can be placed on top of the stripper so that it can work even longer. It also makes cleanup much neater and cleaner. Check it out at www.dumondchemicals.com.

• We recommend using a primer and sealer for so many paint projects. BIN Advanced from Rust-Oleum has created a synthetic shellac that will block water stains, rust, crayon, lipstick, grease, intense paint colors, graffiti and even bad odors. It even can be used to cover smoke stains after a fire. The bright-white finish gives you the perfect surface to make a clean start with. It can be used indoors and out, and dries quickly to save you time. It's available at paint and hardware stores, as well as home centers. Check it out at www.rustoleum.com.

• 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 thesuperhandyman.com.

2013, Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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