Handy Thoughts

Painting exterior wood

Most houses (if not all) have some type of wood on the exterior. New construction may use other composite materials but it still consists of wood fiber or wafers. Wood that is exposed to the outdoor elements must be properly sealed or painted to protect it from water. Moisture is the enemy of wood because it always causes rot.

Paint manufactures have improved their exterior paints over the years to include ingredients  that guard against mold and mildew, and resists pealing or cracking. But before painting bare wood it must always be coated with a good exterior primer first. Recommended  primers will consist of either acrylic, latex, or alkyd to seal the wood and help paint repel moisture. 

I've had to repair or replace a lot of fascia and soffit in old and new homes. Most often the wood has rotted because it was not primed and painted properly. Newer homes are built so quickly and include a hurried paint job. Within a couple years the paint begins separating which exposes the wood to moisture and rot.

The initial cost of purchasing quality primer and paint may seem expensive, but in the long run you'll save by not paying for rotted wood repairs. Don't by cheap when painting the exterior of your home. And paint with primer isn't as good as using a good primer then paint. Pay a little extra to do it right the first.

Here is a link to a detailed article about primers. http://www.paintpro.net/Articles/PP804/PP804-Primers.cfm

Enjoy the new look of your home.

Reverse a door swing

This customer wanted me to reverse the swing of the door to their laundry room. The 32" door opened into the laundry room leaving little room to move around.

This was a four hour project from start to cleanup. These are the general steps I took.

1. Remove the door by pulling the hinge pins and set the door aside. I also had to carefully remove the stop trim because it had to be reversed.

2. Then I drew a light pencil line from top and bottom of each hinge on the door jamb using a framing square. These reference lines were drawn to the opposite site of the jamb to show where to chisel out a new hinge mortise. Do the same for the strike plate on the other door jamb, and hinge locations on the door.

3. Remove the hinges from the door jamb. Using one of the hinges as a template line it up with the reference lines. Lightly trace the new hinge location. Trace the new location for the strike plate as well.

4. Cut a piece of thin wood, about 1/8" thick, to fit in each of the original hinge and strike plate mortise (It doesn’t have to fit perfectly).

5. Next I scraped any paint from the existing mortise. Then I glued the wood filler pieces into the mortise, and secured with two brad nails-counter sunk.

6. I used wood filler to fill in any gaps, and let it dry while continuing to the new mortises.

7. Using a chisel I carefully removed wood to create new mortises on the jambs and door. Using a ¾" paddle bit I drilled out for the latch bolt in the strike plate mortise.

8. Then I used one hinge to locate the screw holes and drilled pilot holes in the new mortise cuts. 

9. I reversed the direction of the hinges on the door, and re-installed the hinges and strike plate in their new locations.

10. By now the glue and filler had set up enough where I had patched the old mortise cuts. I used an orbital sander to smooth out the patches.

11. Using applied primer to the patches and any bare wood with two coats.

12. Re-installed the door. I kept the hinge screws slightly loose. This gave me a little wiggle room to set the hinge pins. Then tightened the screws.

13. Then I closed the door letting it latch. Using my pencil I made a few reference marks for the new stop trim location, and installed the stops with finish nails.

14. The door worked great. I wiped off the pencil marks with a damp cloth. All that remained was to apply caulk and trim paint.

Tiling a wood floor

Putting tile on a wood floor can be done. The floor must be framed solid without bouncing. It should also be flat and level (small variations are acceptable).

Remove existing floor covering down to the sub-floor. Make necessary repairs to the sub-floor and joists before laying tile. The sub-floor should be screwed properly to the floor joists. It is best not to use particle board on the floor because if it gets wet it will swell and deteriorate. I prefer using plywood.

It is best (in my humble opinion) to cut the bottoms of door casings to allow room for tile to slide beneath. You may also need to remove the baseboards if they are not high enough already. Reinstall the baseboards after tile and grout have set.

Install 3' x 5' Hardie backer over the sub-floor according to manufacturers instructions.

Use a thinset mortar intended for use with floor tiles, and size of tiles used.

If done properly your new tile floor will be fine. However, since upper floors have a tendency to move, I never guarantee the grout won't show some cracks over time.

Repair a bathroom floor

When it comes to getting a house ready for sale you probably don't want to spend a lot of money on expensive upgrades or amenities. One rental house I worked on had a rotted floor in the bathroom, and did require some expense to repair. I’ve seen this often in older homes around tubs and toilets. Over time the floors and walls move a little leaving cracks for water to get through.

The house I am referring to here was built in 1918 and was renovated or patched together many times. The biggest issue was the condition of the bathroom floor. I had to remove a section of rotted floor five feet by four feet that had three layers of previous floor repairs. Apparently the former owners simply laid new wood over rotted. I removed the old toilet and pedestal sink. After cleaning up the rotted wood floor I made repairs to floor joists and leveled the floor. Then I put down ¾" plywood using construction adhesive and 2-½" deck screws.

Then I cut and laid the new linoleum. Once the fit looked good I pulled the linoleum back. After applying glue to the floor I carefully laid the linoleum in place, then  smoothed it out with a roller.

Next I installed a new efficient toilet and 24" vanity. With a solid level floor, new linoleum, and new fixtures the bathroom looked much better. The new owners will have a solid floor and upgraded fixtures.

Should I accept this project?

Some projects seem too good to be true.Over the years I’ve worked on a lot of different projects myself or while assisting others. So it’s easy for me to think of myself as a “jack of all trades”. But honestly, I can’t know everything - nobody can.

A customer may ask “Can you install my glue down wood floor?” at a time when I could use the money. My brain tells me that I know how to do the job, but my gut instinct says “wait a minute-can you really do it?”.

Okay, I could do the job if I have two other people helping who also know how to install wood flooring.  There is also the fact that my body would quit before finishing the job. An entry way or small room I can do by myself in a reasonable amount of time.

Some handy persons or remodel contractors take on projects because it will bring in a large payoff without considering if they should. Once they get into the project it becomes overwhelming. Then other contractors have to be called in to get the job done. This raises the price and the customer won’t be happy about that.

The moral of this story-be honest with yourself and your customer. It’s okay not to know everything or not be able to do every job alone. If help is needed then tell the customer what to expect from the start.

Hidden Termites


There could be a hidden demolition crew of thousands working quietly beneath your feet or in the wall behind your china closet. There may not be any visual evidence to indicate there is a termite colony happily chewing away at your home. To make matters worse you probably won't notice a problem until major damage has occurred.

As a handyman I have seen many homes with termite damage. The customer usually noticed a small area in the wall or floor that is soft, or saw the termites crawling around a window sill. By then it was too late, those little bugs already did a lot of damage behind the scenes.

After some reading I have learned that the most destructive termite in central America is the Subterranean Formosan species. Here's my condensed information. They can live deep in the ground during very cold weather then come to the surface during warm weather, and into our homes. They also can migrate the length of a football field. Termites eat wood, cardboard, paper, and anything else containing cellulose.

Homeowners should not leave piles of lumber, brush, or firewood laying around their property for a very long time. Termites may find this free source of food near your house, then eventually make your house their home. It would be a good idea to have a termite inspection done by a reputable pest control company; it's a small price to pay compared to having a contractor tear out and rebuild a wall destroyed by termites.

For more information about termites try this site: www.termiteweb.com.