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posted: 8/22/2014 12:01 AM

Tackling cleanup after a storm

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Most of us do-it-yourselfers will tackle their own, or a neighbor's, cleanup after a storm. It's easy to go around picking up debris, tree limbs and other stuff, but if a tree is lying on your car or roof or across your driveway, there's a right way and a wrong way to do it. Here are our best tips.

• First of all, think safety! Wait until the storm has passed before you venture out for repairs.

• Make sure no downed electrical lines are caught in the debris before you start hauling it away.

• Take lots of photos if you have to remove debris and cover damage before your insurance adjuster can take a look.

• Evaluate the situation before starting anything. Make note of what tools you will need to gather up, and get them ready first.

• A chain saw probably is your best choice of tools for most jobs. Wear safety gear to protect yourself, and if you don't know what you are doing, ask for assistance.

• Make sure nothing else is in the way as the tree and/or branches come down.

• Locate the pressure areas that could cause the tree to move quickly when cut or released. Cut halfway through one side and then halfway, slightly offline from the other side of the tree. This will release some of the pressure before you cut all the way through the tree. Cut off side branches first, being careful not to lose control of the debris.

• Stack debris on your curb or at another location where it will be easy to haul away.

• If there are crews working in your area to do this for you and you are not proficient with a chain saw, get on their work list and let them take care of it.

Be safe. You don't need a medical claim on top of your other problems!

Handy-dandy dowel rods

Kitchen space can go a lot further if you customize it. A tall, narrow cabinet can be wasted space unless you add a few pairs of dowel rods to turn it into the perfect place to store trays and baking sheets. The dowels can be wedged into place by friction or by drilling a deep hole into the top of the cabinet and a matching shallower hole into the base of the cabinet and install the dowels. The dowels go into the top hole first and then drop down into the bottom hole. You can line up a few of these and store several trays in this otherwise-wasted space.

Easy hang-ups

A wire clothing hanger can be used for a lot more than just hanging a shirt or jacket. You can unwind the top part of the hanger and slide a roll of paper towels onto it. Rewind it and hang it up to keep cleanups quick and easy. The hangers made for hanging slacks are even easier to use: You can pull out the wire from one side of the cardboard tube, slide on the paper towel roll, then put the wire back into the cardboard. You also can use this method for hanging rolls of string, tape and other shop accessories.

Super hints

• A slight leak in an outdoor faucet can leak quite a bit over time. Install a screw-on hose end cap to shut off the drip. This isn't a permanent fix, but a pretty effective temporary solution to the problem.

• Using a razor blade is a super way to scrape glass clean. It will remove paint, dirt, grease and grime, and a lot of other junk. It's probably the best way ever to clean a dirty glass oven window. You can soften the grease with vinegar if you want but, when using a razor scraper, you really don't need to do anything else.

• If you suspect a gas leak, call a plumber and shut off your gas supply. One way to locate a gas leak at a joint is to spray a little dishwashing liquid and water on the area. Bubbles will appear if a leak is present. This is a great way to ensure you have a good connection on your gas grill.

Q. I need some guidance. I plan to install a small, prefab pond in my backyard. Do I need to install water and electrical lines to the site first?

A. If the pond is just a bowl of water, then you do not need to install water or power lines; you can just fill it with a garden hose. If, however, you plan to have a fountain and pump, then you will need some sort of electrical outlet. Electrical lines need to be installed according to your local codes. Check with your county or city code-enforcement office for its requirements.

Q. We had a leak in our kitchen cabinet from the sink. It's fixed now, but the floor of the cabinet was ruined before we fixed the problem. Now I want to try to install a base. How do I do this?

A. If the space inside the cabinet is larger than the opening of the doors, a common problem especially with corner cabinets, you may have to cut it in two pieces. Install 1-by-1 inch wood around the inside base of the cabinet so your replacement pieces will rest on these.

Q. Our latest project is an old home that needs a lot of work. It also has a lot of character, and we are trying to save as much of it as possible. There is a good amount of "gingerbread" trim on the exterior of the house. Several sections are missing or badly damaged. I am trying to find a source for replacement parts. Got any advice?

A. First, check locally for restoration companies that sell salvage parts to see if they have something in stock that will work for you. They also may know local woodworkers who can duplicate your wooden trim. There also are online sources, although shopping online for this is a little hard to match. Good luck, and please send photos when you are finished!

Reader tips

• My son-in-law is an electrician and, when we got our hot tub, he did the wiring for it. I was able to help, too, and learned a neat trick. Before running the wires through the conduit, he squirted some soapy water into the conduit. This made the wires slide through it much easier. I thought you might need to know this at some point and thought others might want to try it, too. Be sure there are no live wires and the power is turned off before attempting this trick.

• I am sold on vinegar to clean paintbrushes. I'd heard it would work well, but I was surprised at just how well it worked. Now I soak all of my paintbrushes in warm vinegar, especially if they are caked with paint. After soaking them, the paint comes off much faster with brush cleaner or just soapy water. Try it yourself and see how great it works.

• The recessed lights on my front porch have been nice for several years. But one had burned out, and I decided to replace both of them at the same time, since it was so hard to get to. I had trouble getting my hand into the area to turn the bulb, so I made a tab from duct tape to use like a handle to unscrew the old bulb, and then put it on the new bulb to turn it back into place. It worked perfectly on both bulbs, and now I'm back in business!

• My wife and I decided to jazz up our kitchen cabinets. I wanted to do it quickly and without a lot of mess, and we found some nice stamped-metal sheets at the home center. I trimmed them to fit perfectly inside the cabinet frames. I glued them in place. Man, they look fantastic, and are totally unique.

• We bought an apartment in the city as a second home. Until we could get into it and really decorate it, we bought inexpensive tablecloths and hung these up over the windows. They were very large, and it would have cost a fortune to install drapes, especially since we would have had to change them once we decided on a permanent color scheme. The dollar-store tablecloths were only about $10 apiece, and they're long enough to cover the extra-tall windows and give us the privacy we needed for the first few weeks.


• Wagner is the name we all think of when we think of DIY Spray Painters. The Flexio line is the latest from Wagner, and it is even better. The 570 entry-level sprayer can use most unthinned paints, sealers and stains, both latex and oil-based. A pattern adjustment ring gives you more control and the X-Boost power settings can over up to an 8-by-10 foot surface in two to six minutes. The 590 model offers even more adjustments for detail work and paint-flow rate. The features only get better as you move up in the line, so you'll be able to find a sprayer to fit your needs, even if you are a semipro. To find out more about the Wagner Flexio, go to and see for yourself. The Flexio line is available at your paint store, home center or hardware store.

• We get a lot of questions about how to repair cracks in a driveway. There are great caulks for this, but some are much better than others. Slab from Sashco is a super choice. It is simple to apply, sticks well and even stretches for expansion and contraction issues. It can be used, with filler strips, to span joints up to 3 inches wide, and it's water-based, so it's easy to clean up, too. But the best feature is that is has a heavy texture that really looks like concrete. Check it out at or at your home center or hardware 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

© 2014, Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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